She’s bubbly and outgoing, a cellist and a gymnast. And, she wakes up every day with Rockford. Learn more about the personal side of one of this 13 WREX morning show anchor.
For many of us, getting up early for work can be an arduous task.
Not so for Hannah Welker, co-host of 13 News Today, the 13WREX morning program that airs from 5 to 7 a.m. Welker rises at 2:30 a.m. and arrives at the station by 3:45 a.m., to prepare for that morning’s broadcast.
The perky 22-year-old news anchor knows it goes with the territory of working in morning television. She embraces the opportunity to send viewers off to work feeling good about the day.
“Sometimes we’re the first people you see in the morning, so my goal is to make at least one person smile,” she says. “My parents taught me to always have a good attitude. It takes way more energy to be sad and angry.”
Welker joined the 13WREX news team in May 2012, straight from the University of Illinois, where she earned a degree in broadcast journalism. She worked as a general assignment reporter for six months before she was promoted, joining co-anchor Aaron Wright and meteorologist Greg Bobos on the station’s new-look morning show.
“I always knew I wanted to be on TV,” she says. “I love talking to people and hearing their stories. In journalism, you’re giving a voice to the voiceless. I’m thankful I get to go to work every day to a job I love.”
Welker was born in Cleveland, but moved with her family at age 2 to the small town of Butler, Pa., located 35 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. Her father, Keith, is an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, and mother Natalie is a registered nurse. Both of her sisters live in New York City, where older sister Renee just graduated law school and younger sister Lea studies fashion design.
Despite the distance, Welker remains close to her family, talking by phone several times a day. “My family is the most important thing in my life,” she says. “They’re my best friends and biggest supporters. Being away from them is hard.” It helps having an aunt and cousins living nearby in the Chicago suburbs.
Growing up, the Welker girls participated in sports. Renee played lacrosse and Lea took to volleyball. Welker’s sport of choice was gymnastics. Her parents signed her up when she was 4, and she was competing two years later. She enjoyed following the USA teams that competed in the Olympics and studied the career of gold medalist winner Mary Lou Retton.
While she enjoyed other activities, including playing cello since age 4, most of Welker’s free time was spent inside a gymnasium, perfecting the uneven bars. From the time she was 10, she devoted more than four hours a day, five days a week, to practice. While some feared that she might miss out on her teen years, Welker had no regrets.
“It’s a huge part of who I am,” she says. “It takes so much hard work and dedication. It teaches you discipline that you might not learn in other sports. It teaches you to withstand any pressure. It taught me how to be comfortable in front of people. All of that translates perfectly into what I do now as a journalist. I credit gymnastics for the job I have now.”
The gym became her second home, a place where she developed close friendships with teammates. And she was good; Welker competed in club gymnastics, becoming a regional qualifier at the highest level for her class.
Welker received four college scholarship offers, before deciding on the University of Illinois, a place she fell in love with the first time she stepped on campus. “I loved the energy, the school spirit and the academic level at a Big Ten school,” she says. “You can’t beat it.”
Moving away from home, however, proved difficult. She became extremely homesick. With tears in her eyes, she called her mother every day. Managing a college schedule and her studies was challenging. But there were good times, too. Welker spent a summer as a broadcast intern for a CBS affiliate in New York City. An avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, she got the chance to cover a variety of events, including the NBA draft, a Floyd Mayweather Jr. news conference and a Wimbledon event.
But most of her spare time during college was spent with her gymnastics team.
“We had a lot to balance,” she says. “Everything we did revolved around gymnastics. There were workouts and practices. When my family went on a ski trip to Utah, I had to work out at a nearby gym instead. The coaches had high expectations. It was like a full-time job.”
Welker struggled with the pressure of Big Ten competition as the Illini reached the NCAA championship during her freshman and junior years. While the team fell short of winning a national title, it was an unforgettable experience for Welker, despite the physical toll it took on her body. Over the years, she suffered four fractured toes, a broken foot, a concussion and a bulging disc in her back. Still, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was competitive, stressful at times, but all worth it in the end,” she says. “The rewards outweighed any negatives. It doesn’t matter how many medals you win. What matters is the type of person you become. That’s the biggest thing I take away from anything I do. It molded me into a person that I hope other people respect.”
And they do. The station has received plenty of positive feedback from viewers about Welker’s work on the morning show. In fact, one of Welker’s news clips from her first day ended up on Conan O’Brien.
During her free time, Welker enjoys traveling home to visit family and friends. She also devours hours of HGTV. “I’ve always loved looking at and pricing homes,” she says. “Who knows, maybe I have a future as a realtor. The sky’s the limit.”
Maybe. In the meantime, she’s off and running in the news business and enjoying every minute of it.