Colleen Jones: calling the shots

by Ryan Baker
She is a curling sensation, TV anchor, wife and mother. How does Colleen Jones find time to do it all?

By Ryan Baker

Colleen Jones has taken her sons Zach and Luke to work at so many sporting events she can’t even begin to count. As a sports reporter for the CBC since the mid 1980s, Jones had the opportunity to cover many of Halifax’s prime sporting spectacles — and her children had front row seats for all of them.

Imagine being able to tell your friends you ran onto the football field right after an important game just ended. How about you’ve been to more hockey games in person than they’ve ever seen on TV? Or that you got to stand in a boxing ring right next to Trevor Berbick while cameras flashed and the crowd roared its appreciation? Sure you were only a year old, but you were still there.

Jones started taking her kids to work before they could walk or talk, often literally balancing them on her hip while she conducted interviews with athletes. Jones would also take her kids to the rink when she went curling, leaving them entertained with books and Lego while she trained. Balancing jobs and family is something Jones has been doing successfully for more than 20 years.

Most women wouldn’t think of taking their children to work everyday, let alone cradling them on their hip while doing live interviews or nursing them in the office. But Colleen Jones has never been accused of being like ‘most women.’

“She’s not even human — nobody can keep up with her,” claims Joanne Clancy, former colleague of Jones and close friend for over twenty-five years. “I don’t know any other Colleen Jones’, do you? I don’t think they’re making them anymore!”

Whether the ‘Colleen Jones’ mold is off the market or not, Jones has certainly been successful in carving out a niche for herself as one of the hardest working — and busiest — women in Atlantic Canada.

The work Jones does as the sports and weather reporter for CBC News: Morning is time consuming and requires dedication, but it is far from the only thing on her plate. In addition to the successful broadcasting career she has established over the years, Jones has also cemented her status as one of the most accomplished female curlers in history.

Juggling a curling career with one in broadcasting — in addition to a family — was not always easy for Jones. She has gone to extreme lengths and ventured off the beaten path on several occasions, but always with the aim of finding the perfect balance between curling superstar, TV anchor, wife and mother.

Family first

After giving birth to her first son in August of 1986, Jones took only three measly weeks off for maternity leave before returning to the grind — with newborn Zachary in tow.

“I used to bring him in a basket to work with me at the CBC for the longest while,” laughs Jones in recollection. “It just seemed like the easy thing to do — I was nursing [Zach] then so I needed to have him with me. Now I look back and say I was crazy, but it all worked out at the time.”

One of the main reasons everything worked out so well is that Jones was willing to tote her newborn son with her across the province — for hockey, football, soccer, basketball and even boxing. This became a lengthy tradition Jones also continued with her second son, Luke.

Despite being such a constant presence at their mother’s job, whether it was well before the sun rose or long after it set, Jones says Zach and Luke never once complained or wanted to be anywhere else. And why would they?

“The kids have been behind the scenes of television for so long, going to a hockey game or an event was always something they wanted to do,” insists Jones. “It’s all they’ve ever known.”

Having young children around the workplace would be difficult, but Zach and Luke were professionals when it came to behaving on set. Jones says she never had a problem with either kid at work, whether it was on a football field or while doing interviews.

“[Zach] always knew when the mic was on it was time to be quiet, or he’d be running on the track while I did the interviews,” laughs Jones. “As long as we went to a playground before or after and got ice cream, they were happy.”

Jones admits there was some selfish motivation behind ushering her kids to all of these sporting events, even though it created extra work for herself. She simply doesn’t like being away from her family.

“I always mind when I shoot on the road and they’re not there, I worry a lot,” says Jones. “I never like being away from them, that’s definitely one of the tougher parts of the job.”

However, knowing her husband Scott Saunders is holding down the fort while she’s gone alleviates most of the stress Jones feels at leaving her family.

Saunders, who works as a mechanical engineer with Composites Atlantic, would often work from home while Jones was away so that he could make the kids lunch or pick them up from school. As Zach and Luke grew older there was less and less need for an adult to be there, but Jones says her husband is still completely willing to adjust his schedule for her or the kids.

“Scott’s been terrific, but not just for balancing things,” Jones says. “We have the same sort of parenting and life philosophy, and he’s always been incredibly supportive of me and my work.”

The demanding lifestyle Jones leads requires constant support from Saunders. Jones has been the sports and weather reporter for CBC News: Morning since 1993, which means she is up by quarter to five every morning and at work by no later than six. From there Jones informs and entertains early-to-rise Canadians until roughly 11:30 am. Even after she punches her ticket and is off the clock, Jones is by no means taking it easy — she just changes gears. An hour of curling practice, an hour at the gym or playing tennis, and then a quick bike ride home to make dinner. Throw in some laundry, maybe a sitcom or two, and then it’s lights out by no later than 10 pm to get as many precious minutes of sleep as possible.

Hurry hard!

Colleen Jones has a supportive, loving family and a thriving broadcasting career with the CBC. Why then does Jones insist on adding such a physically and mentally challenging activity like curling to her already long days and short nights?

When Jones steps on a 140-foot sheet of glistening ice, her competitive spirit and fervent desire to win are most rewarded.

Her azure eyes, rimmed with thick black eyeliner, rarely blink or move away from her target at the other end of the ice. She chomps vigorously on piece after piece of Dentyne Ice gum, the cinnamon jolt of each bite working to contain her nervous excitement. She meticulously takes a sip of water before every rock she throws and her mouth narrows into the same lipstick-covered line after each shot, willing it to be perfect.

“Colleen is a bundle of energy on the ice — I don’t think the public has any idea what she puts herself through to compete,” adds longtime teammate Nancy Delahunt. “These routines she has help to control the massive energy and focus she brings to a curling game.”

Jones is the most accomplished female curler in Canadian history, with a record six Canadian titles and two World Curling championships to show for all the gum-chewing hard work she has put in.

“Colleen likes to have a lot going on — she is not a conformist, in fact she rarely goes with what you would perceive to be the norm,” says Kim Kelly, another teammate of Colleen’s and close friend. “She’s motivated by winning for sure, but she’s motivated by just the thrill of competition — she plays anything with that kind of intensity.”

Delahunt claims that part of Jones’ motivation to balance curling with a job and a family is rooted in how central curling has been to her life over the years. Jones has played competitively since she was 17, met her husband Scott through the sport and even landed her first job in broadcasting because of her status as a curling champion.

“Her family is definitely the most important thing to her,” says Delahunt. “But next to that, curling without a doubt has given Colleen her biggest ‘wow’ moments in life — and her life has been really centered on curling and winning in curling.”

Jones, Kelly, Delahunt and teammate Mary-Anne Arsenault dominated the sport from 1999 through 2004, during which they claimed five of six National championships and two World titles. Kelly ascribes much of the team’s success to Jones’ competitive desire and intensity, which fueled the other three to give their all.

“She just lives to compete. That is like the thread of her personality, it’s woven right in there,” explains Kelly. “We loved the competition too but Colleen was our fearless leader as far as that was and I learned how to win, how to compete, from her.”

In 2006 the competitive fire in Kelly and Delahunt died out, and they decided to step away from the sport. Arsenault still wanted to play, but initially decided on a reduced playing and practicing schedule. And just like that, Jones, the supermom with an insatiable desire for competition, found herself without a team.

The sense of abandonment became even stronger when Kelly, Arsenault and Delahunt decided to form their own team and play a much more relaxed, low-intensity schedule.
Kelly insists there was no intention to abandon Jones but after seven years of playing at the highest level, she simply wasn’t able to keep up with her intensity.

“Colleen was always pushing the envelope and telling us ‘you can’t stop there, you can’t rest on your laurels’,” says Kelly.  “After a while it was like I couldn’t push anymore. It really felt like a divorce.”

Kelly’s insistence that there are no hard feelings is proved by the fact that all four women are still friends today, but Jones still isn’t quite sure what happened to cause the breakup.

“To the best of my knowledge after our meeting, it was because people were just tired of the process, it was a lot of work and people were just tired of it,” says Jones, taking a moment to think about what to say next. “That was the story they said and the story I go with.”

The team’s decision to stop playing speaks volumes about Jones’ character. It would have been so easy for Jones to hang up her broom and put away the chewing gum. Who expects a 47-year-old woman to start from scratch with a new team after the three women who won so much with her were ready to call it a day?

But Jones, unsurprisingly, decided to plug along. She played with fellow Nova Scotian Kay Zinck for a while and created a new team for a season, but nothing came close to capturing the success she held with Kelly, Arsenault and Delahunt.

Delahunt, for her part, thinks Jones is still hurting from the team’s decision to quit back in 2006. “She grieves that I think,” says Delahunt with a regretful sigh. “That is part of why she was so sad at our breakup — she wasn’t ready to stop competing at that level and we were.”

Coming home

Whether Colleen Jones still wants to compete for Canadian and World titles or not, she is entering the 2008 – 2009 curling season with no team and no real chance at playing more than recreationally.

In typical fashion however, Jones refuses to look at this as a negative and is instead throwing herself into her journalism and family.

Jones is still covering weather and sports with CBC News: Morning but she is also dipping her fingers into the political field, covering election issues that are important to everyday Canadians.

“I like to bring a human side to politics and campaigning — what are real people saying about what’s going on?” asks Jones. “I try to avoid experts and politicians and talk to people who are actually affected by these decisions.”

In addition to broadening her spectrum at CBC, Jones is getting a lot of enjoyment through her youngest son Luke and his blossoming sports career. Almost 16, Luke is an up-and-coming tennis player and also has his own junior curling team, guided by none other than Jones and her husband Scott.

Jones hopes the life she has led shows her kids that anything is possible if they put their mind to it.

“Hopefully what they learned from it is that if you’re disciplined, if your organized, if you keep things in perspective you can juggle a lot and achieve a lot,” says Jones.  “And hopefully it also allowed them to dream a little bigger and look for other things in life besides what’s right out your front door.”