For a good bit of the past six years, if Wally and Susan Kooiman wanted to give a hug to their daughter — Anna Kooiman, who famously left a primo Fox News anchor job to move to Australia — it took weeks of planning and close to 24 hours of travel from their Charlotte home.
Oh, and for almost two of those six years, such trips were just flat-out impossible, due to a global pandemic.
Then, in June, Anna Kooiman made the surprise announcement that she was returning both to her hometown and to TV, to host a forthcoming “female-focused” lifestyle show for her old station, WCCB Charlotte. And since the beginning July, her parents have been able to get hugs to her in well under 24 seconds, by virtue of the fact that Anna, her husband, Tim Stuckey, and their two young kids are temporarily crashing at Wally and Susan’s home in SouthPark.
Susan, for one, is still pinching herself. Mom just didn’t see this coming.
“I cried all night the night she left,” Susan says, thinking back to her daughter’s 2016 departure from the East Coast, as she stands in her backyard with Anna and Tim. “I told Wally, ‘They’re gonna have children and they’ll never come back!’”
“Now you can’t get rid of me,” Anna says to her mom, laughing, “because we can’t find a house!”
Truth be told, Anna didn’t see this coming, either. But she’s grown accustomed to life throwing her curveballs — and to winding up and pitching a few curveballs of her own.
After landing the job co-hosting “News Rising” for WCCB (Channel 18) in 2008, Kooiman figured she’d never leave Charlotte. After getting tapped by Fox News to move to New York City in 2011, she assumed she was in the Big Apple to stay. Although it took a little while to get comfortable after following her Aussie husband Down Under in 2016, she honestly thought they might be there forever.
And today, the Myers Park High School graduate is literally back where it all began, in the house she grew up in, not 20 minutes away from 1 Television Place, where a new studio is being custom-built just for “Your Day With Anna Kooiman,” set to premiere Jan. 9.
But given her track record for drastic career changes, it’s fair to ask: Is the 38-year-old Kooiman here in Charlotte to stay?
‘You don’t say no to New York’
When Kooiman was hired by WCCB the first time around — after stints in at WWAY in Wilmington (her college town) and WNWO in Toledo, Ohio — she felt like she’d made it.
She quickly became a popular presence on the then-Fox-affiliated Charlotte station’s four-hour news and entertainment morning show. She developed a following while working as a fitness instructor in her free time, leading classes at various YMCAs and luxury hotel brands. She bought a condo.
Her intention was to go nowhere.
Eventually, though, Kooiman started suspecting she had the potential to graduate to bigger and better things ... and she was right. After hooking up with an agent and putting together some tapes, they got a fairly quick bite from Fox News. That escalated quickly. WCCB had been priming her for some increasingly feature-y segments, one involving healthy cooking and another involving fitness.
But when Fox News’ offer came, it was a no-brainer: “You don’t say no to New York City,” says Kooiman, who was just 27 at the time.
Much to her surprise, leaving her fitness clients turned out to be as tough as leaving her colleagues in the newsroom. “When I left Charlotte ... I wasn’t a mom yet then, but a lot of moms ... were like, ‘You helped me bring my sexy back,’” she recalls. “(They gave me) cards and balloons, and one girl even gave me earrings, and another girl gave me a little bracelet. ...
“It felt like I had made a difference to these people.”
Meanwhile, Fox News was putting the kibosh on her side hustle, Kooiman says, because “they didn’t want journalists to come try to talk to me. They didn’t want stalkers to come try to talk to me. ... I mourned that. It was really hard for me not to do that anymore. But they wanted me to focus on the job.”
So she did. She showed up early. She stayed late. She came in on her days off. She volunteered for extra shifts.
But somehow, she still found time to fall for a man who would send her life spinning in a wholly unexpected direction.
A (very) long-distance relationship
It’s a love story Kooiman loves telling.
In the fall of 2012 — tired and dirty after a multi-day-long shift spent covering Hurricane Sandy, and unable to reach her apartment due to a crane collapse on her block — she met a handsome, charming guy with an Australian accent who was hanging with friends in the bar at the W New York hotel in Times Square. He was living in London at the time, and in town for work.
They went out for a drink the next night. The day after that, he headed back across the Atlantic.
Then they began a jet-setting relationship made possible in large part because she was working so much: The copious OT helped her routinely earn significant chunks of time off, and she’d spend them flying somewhere to meet Stuckey. London. Prague. Boston. Miami.
It was all fun and games until Stuckey’s company transferred him back to Sydney, a move that would make their rendezvous much, much more logistically challenging, time-consuming and expensive. So Kooiman broke it off, believing that trying that hard to make things work would shift her focus too far away from getting ahead in her career.
They didn’t talk for two months. But on the last day of 2013, he called to wish her a Happy New Year, they each confessed to missing the other, and when they got off the phone, Stuckey was making plans to quit his job and move to New York City.
He was there by spring, and the couple was married just over a year later — on July 31, 2015.
At that time, Kooiman was a bona fide star for the network and its “Fox & Friends Weekend” show. And she was still having a lot of fun on the job — over the years, for example, she’d gone cliff diving in Boston Harbor, taken batting practice at Wrigley Field, and kissed beluga whales at SeaWorld for the show.
But that changed as America entered the 2016 election cycle.
“It was stressful,” Kooiman recalls. “I remember I would just feel this like Ugghhhhh. I don’t think I knew it then, but like anxious feelings. Just too much to be in the middle of politics all the time. It just doesn’t fit me, you know? And we were doing fewer and fewer fun things on our show, because that’s not what the ratings wanted. The ratings wanted divisive politics.”
She and Stuckey had always planned to move to Australia at some point, so she could get to know his family and the area where he grew up. They also were eager to start a family, since he was in his early 40s.
So, on their one-year anniversary, she and Stuckey made a decision: Now, they agreed, was as good a time as any to go for both.
Ready to stay ... then ready to go
Still young at 32, Kooiman thought the door would stay open for her for awhile if she wanted to return to TV in America, and in fact figured their stay in Australia was probably going to last for just a year or two. Her mother, as she explained, thought it was going to be forever.
It ended up being somewhere in between.
Initially, Anna struggled. Right when they moved to Sydney, she miscarried. Then she got pregnant again, and suffered a second miscarriage in a row.
“That was really emotional, being away from my mom,” Kooiman says, her voice shaking and eyes filling with tears as her youngest, 2-year-old daughter Annabel, squirms in her lap. “I’d always wanted to be a mom. And I was worried that I’d pushed it too late. I wasn’t that old, but I’d been chasing a career, and I was concerned that I had spent too much time running after a career.”
In January 2018, Kooiman finally was able to exhale, when her son, Brooks, was born.
She also had been hatching a plan for an ambitious fitness concept. It started germinating after she returned to dabbling in leading group fitness classes; it grew into a fascination with focusing her efforts on training and empowering pregnant women and mothers.
Later that year, she launched her Strong Sexy Mammas website, centered around a digital library of home workouts filmed on Bondi Beach and aimed at women in “all stages of motherhood.” In the meantime, Kooiman became adept at making regular, extended visits to the U.S. to see her parents and her older brother Michael in Charlotte, while also popping in to host segments on Fox News.
By the end of the following summer, she was pregnant again.
“So I just decided, You know what? I’m gonna go all-in on Strong Sexy Mammas, this’ll be my career for right now — maybe forever — and that’s that,” Kooiman says. “And then COVID hit.”
The ’round-the-world trips stopped, Australia having imposed some of the world’s strictest COVID-related travel restrictions. Annabel Kooiman was born during the early part of the lockdown, in May 2020, and it would be 18 long months before Anna’s parents would get to meet their granddaughter.
Over the course of that year and a half, Anna went from thinking she’d become an Aussie to thinking ... differently.
When she finally got to bring her family back to Charlotte, in late 2021, it was just for a visit. But while she was here, unbeknownst to her parents, she floated the idea of making a return permanent.
Back to where it all began
It was initially all pretty innocent.
Kooiman successfully pitched to WCCB the idea of going on her old show, “News Rising,” to give tips for staying fit and healthy during the holidays. And from the time she pulled up to the Bahakel Communications building, everything about the experience gave her “these like warm, fuzzy feelings,” she says.
When one of her old bosses called her afterward to gush about her appearance, Kooiman took a shot in the dark.
“‘Would you guys be interested in doing some type of like syndicated lifestyle show?’” she remembers asking. “‘I don’t want to do anything with divisive politics, I don’t want to work holidays, nights, weekends, I don’t want to be covering murders, rapes and robberies. But if there’s something that I can do and be a cheerleader for this city, then ... can we talk?’”
They certainly could — because, as luck would have it, WCCB already had plans in motion to launch a lifestyle show in 2022 and needed a host. Who better than someone who had local roots and national cred?
Of course, these things take time, and Kooiman decided not to tell her parents, just in case it didn’t work out. But when the ink on her contract was dry a couple of months later, she made the announcement. You can probably imagine their reaction. (Hint: It was loud.)
At the time, they were shocked. It all makes perfect sense to them now, though. Their little girl was all grown up.
“Having kids changed her perspective, I’m sure,” Susan Kooiman says, “on what she wanted for her career.”
Adds Wally Kooiman, Anna’s father, with a smile: “Broadway lights kinda gave way to white picket fences.”
‘For ever and ever and ever’?
Anna Kooiman still doesn’t yet have her own white picket fences in Charlotte. Because of the volatile housing market, she and her husband have had more difficulty than anticipated when it comes to buying their own home.
On top of that, her forthcoming show — which will air from 8-9 a.m. weekdays — is a work in progress that seems to have loftier ambitions every day. The idea, she says, is to give her show “a network-quality feel;” and Bahakel has said the plan is to launch “Your Day With Anna Kooiman” in three of its other markets in the Southeast (with, Kooiman adds, a long-term goal of expanding its reach through national syndication).
Yet, she’s already feeling settled. She already feels like this is home again.
At the same time, she’s also learned to never say never about anything. “Look, Charlotte may be the place that we live for ever and ever and ever and ever,” she says. “Or it might not be. We might end up moving back to Sydney. International marriages, you know, you just have to roll with it.”
For now, however, she’s basking in what she refers to as “a dream come true.” (The icing: Her contract stipulates that she can continue running her Strong Sexy Mammas fitness business, so she’s in the process of getting the company registered now in the U.S.)
“I was talking to an old friend of mine from New York, and she said, ‘Are you kidding me? If you talk to any anchor, even in New York, they would bend over backwards to have a show that is their show, in their hometown, if they lived in a place like Charlotte.’”
Kooiman is sitting on a patio sofa in her parents’ big backyard, which backs up into a lush green forest. The only sounds are the leaves rustling in the wind, and Annabel’s occasional giggles in the seat next to her, and Brooks’ chatter as he gets geared up to go for a bike ride on training wheels in the cul-de-sac.
She smiles. “I mean, I would choose Charlotte over New York any day.”