JAMAICAN ON A MISSION: Jenna Wolfe
Anyone who can do a handstand at 30-something is a hero in my book. This speaks not only to the individual's incredible agility and fitness, but also to the discipline it takes to stand on both hands for any period of time. However, this is a simple routine for Jamaican-born fitness expert and NBC anchorwoman, Jenna Wolfe, who boasts about doing handstands as a way to mark her territory whenever she lands on the Rock.
When SO caught up with Wolfe recently, she expressed such patriotism and excitement when recalling her early years at the Maryfield Apartment on Hope Road, where her parents, Americans Bennett and Sheila Wolfe, lived for a few years. Wolfe attended Hopefield Prep School as a toddler and, in 1979, when she was five years old, moved with the family to Haiti.
These days, you don't have to look far to find Wolfe: she can be seen anywhere in the world via satellite or cable on NBC's TODAY Show where she currently serves as the top-rated morning show's correspondent, co-hosting the TODAY Show's Weekend Edition on Sundays. Wolfe started her on-air career back in 1996 as sports anchor for Fox's affiliate station, WICZ, in Binghamton, New York, and later made the big move to New York City in 2002, where she served as anchorwoman and host of MSG Network's flagship show, MSG Sports Desk. She remained with the network for a few years before joining WABC, New York. In 2007, Wolfe made a defining career move to NBC where she can currently be seen rubbing shoulders with mega-celebrities, displaying her fitness skills, or broadcasting on current and breaking news stories from around the world.
SO had a quick, intimate chat with the vivacious and fun-loving Jenna Wolfe while she was busy making preparations for the TODAY Show.
Heather Elliott: You started your career with NBC as a college intern like so many other hopefuls. What was the 'Jenna difference' that made you secure a coveted spot some years later as anchorwoman and national correspondent for the network?
Jenna Wolfe: I can't point to one specific thing that helped me land this job at the TODAY Show, except a lot of hard work, a little bit of creativity, some unconventional story-telling, and a wee bit of "right place, right time". After my TODAY Show internship ended, I couldn't get a job as a newscaster out of college, so I accepted a position at a small TV station doing sports. I would live, eat, and breathe sports until I learned as much as I could. I continued down that sports path for 12 years, assuming I'd stay in the field for the rest of my career. But five years ago, I was anchoring a sportscast at a local station here in NY, WABC, and as usual, I added humour and wit and a lot of fun to the show. Little did I know that NBC News President Steve Capus was watching. He was impressed with my creative and refreshing take on TV broadcasting and asked if I'd bring that over to NBC. I said yes, and there was no looking back, yu nuh see?
HE: As a child, did you always aspire to be on TV? What led you to your career path?
JW: Ever since I can remember, I wanted to work in front of the camera. I would always "commentate" the world around me... whether it was announcing at age three what everyone was eating for breakfast in the mornings; or, at age nine, what homework assignment we had; or just saying goodnight to my family at the end of the evening by my early teens. Everything was a telecast. My hairbrush was a microphone. My playdates with friends were news stories, and my theatrical productions in grade school may as well have been Broadway. I was never sure exactly what I'd be doing when I grew up, but I was certain it would involve a live camera.
HE: Speaking of childhood, you were born in Jamaica, but raised in Haiti. Furthermore, it is widely said that you were brought up in a strict Jewish home. Is that true? I am interested in learning more about your childhood.
HE: While my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico and my mom in New Jersey, both parents are Jewish and raised my brother and me accordingly. It wasn't a STRICT Jewish home, but we still managed to observe all the Jewish holidays, despite living out of the country. We celebrated Hanukkah on the beach, and both my brother and me were bar and bat mitzvah'd while living in the islands. My parents wanted us to know and appreciate our religious heritage to be able to decide, upon adulthood, how we wanted to live our lives and raise our children. They made sure we understood that we can still maintain our beliefs regardless of where we're brought up.
HE: Did you ever come back to Jamaica during your college days as a Jamaican to show off your birthplace during spring breaks and summertime at all?
JW: If I had a penny for every time I bragged to someone that I was born in Jamaica, I'd be a rich lady today! We moved from Haiti to New York in 1989, at the height of the political unrest in Port-au-Prince. My father was so proud of our Jamaican roots that we vacationed in Jamaica almost every winter and summer break. We usually stayed either in Montego Bay or Negril.
HE: You were here recently filming on the island with your NBC co-star Lester Holt. Are you doing some work here now? What are you working on that involves Jamaica?
JW: Since I was born in Jamaica and since Lester has family down here, we wanted to do a story on 'retracing' our Jamaican roots. It's not very often that two co-anchors both hail from a Caribbean island. So we spent a few days in Kingston, where I was born, visiting old friends and family. We boated out to Lime Cay, rode the bobsled ride at Mystic Mountain, took in the night life, and worked on our tan. I even gave Lester a workout on the beach! Yes, this was all for work...LOL! I visited Nuttall Hospital, where I was born. As Lester eloquently pointed out to me, "This, Jenna, was where they first uttered those famous words... DOES SHE EVER STOP TALKING??"
HE: Sports is your forte. You spent a few years as a sports anchor on several networks, including ABC and FOX, so I imagine you are pretty much up to speed on track and field and particularly your countryman Usain Bolt's recent pre-Olympic performance. What's your hope for him in London?
JW: When it comes to track and field in the Olympics, I bleed black, green and gold. Enough said.
HE: We are celebrating 50 years of Independence this year and things are in high gear for some momentous celebrations both here and overseas. Judging from when you were here the last time, do you think we have much to celebrate?
JW: Even if I hadn't just visited Jamaica, I'd agree that the country has a lot to celebrate. With so much economic strife across the board globally, it's uplifting to see a country both surviving... and thriving, with such spirited confidence. My auntie Nyla lives in Kingston. Lester and I visited with her and her kids while we were down there. To listen to her talk about her pride for the island nation is so beautiful.
HE: Walk me through a typical day for Jenna.
JW: When I'm hosting the TODAY Show, I'm usually up at 3:15 am, at the gym by 4:00, and at work by 5:15 am. I meet with Lester and producers to go over the show, tweak stories, go through hair and make-up/wardrobe, inhale two cups of coffee and be on set by 7:30 am for 8:00 show start. Whew!!! After the show, I go to my second job, personal training. I have about 12 amazing clients who I train throughout the week. I check in with work throughout the day. There will always be something fun on my to-do list... biking, rollerblading, racquetball, and rock climbing anything that sparks adrenalin. Now on the days that I'm not hosting the show, I'm either on the road or on a shoot somewhere, or I'm in the office writing/editing. On those days, I'm up at 4:30 am, at the gym by 5:00 and at work by 8:00 to read through the daily papers, catch up on e-mails while it's still quiet, and return calls. I'm extremely active and find myself far more comfortable on the go than sitting behind a desk.
HE: Do you plan on starting a family anytime soon?
JW: I'm certainly not getting any younger, and I definitely want to have a family, so I predict it should/might/could/will/perhaps happen in the next two years.
HE: Haiti is still continuing to struggle as a nation following the devastating earthquake that shattered the core of the country and took thousands of lives. How do you plan to help Haiti with your star power to pick up the pieces?
JW: Anything and everything. I've spoken at fund-raisers, I've attended benefits, I've visited the country, I send down clothes and tents when I can. My father still has a factory down in Haiti. He travels there at least once a month. His employees rely on him to continue doing business down there, for their survival. Because he's down there so often, he knows that Haitians need more than just a few dollars to get back on their feet. They need promise, and hope, and jobs, and shelter, and food. They are a resilient people and they will survive, but they need a small boost to hoist them up right now, and I will do anything I can to provide some of that.
HE: When you come home to Jamaica, where do you like to stay and why?
JW: When I'm in Kingston, I'm at the Spanish Court Hotel. It's a fantastic little boutique square in the middle of the city. When I'm on the rest of the island, it varies. But I always make my way down Hope Road, where I was born, where I lived, where I called home for the first few years of my life.