DON'T TELL Kym McNicholas she can't do something. She'll probably prove you wrong.
Someone told her it would be impossible for her to realize her twin dreams of being a TV news reporter while also starring in a water-ski revue.
Starting tomorrow, she will be a morning news anchor on Santa Rosa station KFTY Channel 50 (Channel 10 for Comcast subscribers in Marin).
Weekends, she will continue doing balletic tricks on a swivel ski three times a day in the water show extravaganza at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo.
"It's my passion," she says of the water-skiing.
Doing TV news? "That's my passion, too."
Her face bursts into a smile.
McNicholas, a 5-foot-4, 107-pound blonde, exudes enthusiasm and confidence, talking about the life she has created for herself.
Kymberlie McNicholas was born 30 years ago at Marin General Hospital, daughter of Marilyn, a retired teacher, and William McNicholas, an executive in the semiconductor industry. She still lives with them in Marinwood, in the home where she and her two brothers grew up. She attended local schools, including Terra Linda High School, where "I was very shy and totally unathletic," she says.
She didn't let that stop her.
After spending her senior year at St. Vincent High in Petaluma, McNicholas enrolled to Sacramento State, aiming for a career as an athletic trainer. But when the college's radio station asked her to do color commentary on a football game (her boyfriend was on the team), she "did it and I loved it. I loved having a microphone in my hand."
She switched her major to broadcasting.
She began interning at the radio station, starting as early as 2 a.m. preparing the morning news, and also got an internship at a TV station, theoretically working from 3 to 6 p.m., "but sometimes I'd stay till 11 or 11:30," she recalls.
"I don't remember sleeping in college. I'm very motivated, very driven. I always do above and beyond."
Even before she left for college, she had a weekend job at Marine World. Her older brother Todd was an elephant trainer and Kym was a hostess.
Her job took her to the water-ski stadium, where she immediately spotted her place - "at the top of the pyramid" in a stunt involving three tiers of water-skiers.
Getting there took awhile, although right away she began taking ski lessons with a trainer at Lake Sonoma. When McNicholas wasn't in the water, she took her "fake little swivel ski," tied the ropes to a tree and practiced spinning around on the grass.
As a freshman at Sacramento State, she tried out for the Marine World show, but before she could join it she broke her nose playing softball.
"That put a damper on those dreams," she says.
She got a new chance to show her stuff when a male friend on the college water-ski team enlisted her to replace a female team member who had broken an arm. The Sac State team was competing in the collegiate water-ski championships that year in Bakersfield, and they needed her to jump-ski off a ramp.
She had never jumped off a ramp until the day of the meet.
"I don't know how I did it. My eyes were closed," she remembers.
McNicholas stayed on the team until graduation. She learned a catalog of tricks on double skis, then started "learning and learning and learning, doing more and more complicated tricks."
Two or three times a week in the dead of winter, she would ski on the near-freezing waters of Lake Berryessa, perfecting her skills on the swivel ski. She remembers her body going numb from the cold despite that she wore a wetsuit (something she doesn't wear in the Marine World shows). With one foot in the tow rope, the other in a ski binding that moved on ball bearings, she would practice turning backward - "I would fall and fall and fall" - until she had mastered it. "I didn't know how to turn forward," she says. "The day I finally learned, I called Marine World."
She passed the tryouts, but Marine World had no openings at the time.
When she graduated from college, she went off to Florida as a writer on a startup TV news station and joined an amateur water-ski team in Orlando, regarded as the water-ski capital of the world.
Her broadcast career overtook her ski life. She moved from Orlando to KFTY in Santa Rosa for a couple of months, then got a job in San Francisco doing business reporting on an Internet TV station. Then she was recruited to Tulsa, Okla., to be an energy news reporter. In her third year there, the station sent her to Sacramento to cover the 2002 energy crisis in California.
By then McNicholas was on standby status at Marine World. "My TV job was from 6 in the morning till 12:30 p.m., but after that I would go to Marine World every single day, hoping to go on," she says. "... The last day of the season, I got my chance. It was a moment I'll never forget. That feeling of holding the flag up at the top of the pyramid, feeling on top of the world - wow!"
A smile erupts on her face.
She has been at Marine World ever since - five seasons now.
McNicholas had always been interested in sports. She played youth soccer and softball, and later played doubles on her high school tennis team. She watched football and baseball with her father and served as an athletic trainer and statistician for her high school teams and other teams around the North Bay. Deep down, she hoped to be a sports reporter on TV some day. So in 2002 she joined to KFTY as sports director and sports anchor.
Two years later, she moved back to San Francisco as a business and news reporter at KRON. A year ago, her boss at KRON, Keith Berry, moved to KFTY and persuaded McNicholas to come with him. Now he has named her to the morning anchor spot, which involves giving updates on news, weather and traffic, producing the cut-in segments.
She calls the new gig a dream come true. "I'm really happy," she says.
Berry is happy, too: "We call her the Sonic Boom," he says. "Her tenacity and passion are unmatched in any place I've ever been. If I send her out on a story, she always comes back with four more."
She is also "a magnificent reporter," who asks the questions a viewer would want her to ask, Berry says. Her work ethic has "raised the bar" for everyone on the staff, he says. "When she becomes an anchor, she will be a producer, editor, traffic reporter, weather reporter, news reporter and everything else. Fortunately, she's a person who can do it all."
McNicholas says she loves the serendipity of covering news. On one recent morning, she started out covering an immigration protest march and ended up with a gang-related triple shooting.
Some of her stories have put her at risk. Covering the April storms, she was almost struck by a house that collapsed above her. On a story about dangerous currents in the Russian River in Guerneville, she was swept off her feet and was dunked in the water.
Her gift: staying calm and telling listeners what they need to know.
As for the skiing, she is the only woman in a show of bam-and-slam male performers, making her a decidedly feminine contrast - a tiny figure in a spangled bathing dress with a sequin choker around her neck. She speeds out behind a 400-horsepower Malibu ski boat, twirls on one foot, bends like an ice skater with one leg in the air, twirls again several times and zips onto the beach for a graceful landing. When the show is over, kids gather around her, giving high fives.
"There aren't many girls who can do what she does on a swivel ski," says David Draves, an owner of Mirage Entertainment, which presents the ski show. "She's an important part of our team. She's just a class act."
McNicholas concedes that her schedule leaves little time for a private life. When she can, she golfs at StoneTree in Novato, goes swing dancing in Santa Rosa or volunteers for the Miss Marin County Scholarship program.
For all its limitations, she is content with the life she has chosen.
"All my life people have told me you can't do both - skiing and broadcasting - you've got to pick one," she says. "But it's my life. If you can make time to do both, why not?"