She has to catch a plane. But, unlike most travelers taking to the skies, Fernandez is not heading out on a family vacation. She’s going to the tiny nearby airport for her private flying lessons – something she’s done twice a week for the past few months. “It is so unlike anything I would ever do,” she says. And that’s why she’s doing it.
She says a happy life is all about taking chances. And learning to fly an airplane at age 41 is exactly the chance she wants to take.
She explains: “Beryl Markham is my hero. … She was this daring dame who wrote West with the Night. She fell madly in love with an adventurer, and he taught her how to fly. … When I read this book, I was like ‘Oh my God. I want to be like Beryl Markham!’ She really showed what was possible. So I decided, when I was a kid, that someday I would learn how to fly.”
The former national news anchor encourages all of us, no matter what our ages, to follow her lead. “Oprah Winfrey said 50 is the new 30. People are looking better and feeling better. I have a better figure now than I ever had in my 20s. … [and] you can be sexy at 60, 70, or 80,” she says. “I think the greatest beauty secret is to be true to yourself.”
Fernandez has never kept her secret to herself. She eagerly lectures around the country on Latina empowerment, health and fitness, spas, and alternative approaches to medicine and healing. She’s also served for two years as spokesperson for Komen Race for the Cure, an annual event benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
“She’s not a passive participant in anything she does,” says Carlos Amescua, co-worker for a year and half. “She is the most dynamic woman I know.”
Her long-time Hollywood friends agree. “Giselle has a wonderful unique combination of brains, beauty, and drive,” says long-time friend, actor Cheech Marin.
But, like many of us, she admits she wasn’t always this confident. “I'm really into health because I was a really fat kid,” she admits. “And I know as Latinas, as women in general, we base or entire self esteem on what we weigh and, if we don’t fit the ideal, we think we’re terrible, or failures, or not good enough. … It is so harmful to who we are and what we’re about.”
Born in Mexico and raised in Southern California, Fernandez is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Mexican father. (She’s been known to call herself a kosher burrito.) “Growing up as an American Hispanic woman, I never felt completely Anglo and American enough to feel American, and yet I always felt my Hispanic roots were very prominent in my life. But when I was with my Latino group, I never felt totally Latino. I’m both,” she says.
Fernandez majored in journalism at Sacramento State University in Northern California. She landed her first on-air job in Pueblo, Colorado by sending them a tape of herself reading a news report. With no TV experience, she was hired. Then her career sky-rocketed and Fernandez anchored NBC’s weekend edition of the Today Show and Sunday edition of the NBC Nightly News. She also handled special and foreign assignments for the NBC network. Prior to that, Fernandez served at CBS News substituting for Paula Zahn on CBS This Morning, Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, and Connie Chung on the CBS Weekend News. Additionally, Fernandez was a regular contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, Face the Nation, and 48 Hours. She earned five Emmy Awards. Then, her career as a national news journalist came to a halt. She rebounded by profiling Hollywood’s A-list celebrities as co-host of NBC’s Access Hollywood.
Fernandez’s face disappeared from the set of Access Hollywood in 1998, but not from her viewers’ minds or from television. Today, she’s a morning news anchor at KTLA, the WB affiliate in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest media market.
“I have certainly gone through transitions in my career,” she admits. “But, I think everybody’s like that.”
People can’t follow their childhood dreams, she says, because of our “system.” “You grow up and you’re supposed to go to college. And you’re supposed to leave college and you’re considered really avant garde if you take a year off to travel to Europe with a backpack. Then you’re supposed to have the nine-to-five job and have the 2.5 kids after marriage. And then you’re supposed to retire at 65 and that’s supposed to be a successful life. Well, I think there’s a lot of mid-life crisis for good reason. People don’t just fit into a cookie cutter life plan, and we all of a sudden limit ourselves by virtue of how the system works.”
That’s why she says she’s now allowing herself to fly freely despite her destined career path. “I continue to grow and reinvent myself and find what’s possible,” she says.
And that’s what keeps her healthy – from mind to body to soul. “I learned that careers can go up and down. And that life can be very tenuous and that the only thing you can do for yourself is be kind. Allow yourself to make mistakes. And that includes being good to your body. And being good to your mind.”
For Fernandez, that means following a strict exercise regime, eating right, reading every day … and flying airplanes.
“She’s got a very adventurous spirit,” says her admittedly giddy husband, businessman John Farrand. “She’s got an enormous amount of determination. It really doesn’t matter what she’s doing – whether it’s her work, her exercise, or sports. She’s a great competitor.”
“I used to ask my girlfriends, “When am I going to meet the man who’s going to teach me how to fly?” Then she met her husband last year: “I said, ‘Finally, this guy’s going to teach me how to fly.’”
So, twice a week, the TV journalist gets behind the controls and learns how to turn, land, and take off in a Bonanza airplane. But don’t count on seeing this journalist leave her day job for the skies. “I have no flying ambitions. I just want to do it for the sheer joy of accomplishment and for the beauty of breaking the paradigm of what I’m supposed to be doing in my 40s.”