Al Roker is thrilled to be hosting the 2023 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade after health issues last year caused him to miss the parade for the first time in 27 years.
The beloved TODAY weatherman's co-hosts are equally excited about his return. “You know the best part of the parade this year? Guess who’s going to be back!” Co-host Craig Melvin said on TODAY on Nov. 20.
“The parade was not the same last year without Al,” recalled TODAY’s Hoda Kotb, adding that the team is “over the moon” that he is going to be back hosting the parade this year.
“I feel pretty good. ... I feel like I’m back to like 100%,” Al tells TODAY.com in a phone interview.
However, this time last year, things looked quite different. In November 2022, Al was admitted to the hospital due to blood clots in his legs, which spread to his lungs. As a result, he was unable to host the parade for the first time since 1995.
Instead, Al watched the balloons, floats and crowds that morning from a hospital bed — though he was able to leave the hospital just in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
Shortly after returning home, Al was re-admitted to the hospital in late November due to internal bleeding, which caused him to miss the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
After the parade, "(I thought), certainly, I'll be ready for the tree lighting ... and I watched them both from the hospital," says Al.
Doctors eventually discovered Al had two bleeding ulcers, and performed a seven-hour surgery to resection his colon, remove his gallbladder and redo his duodenum, part of the small intestine, TODAY.com reported previously.
It was the first time that Al had been in an intensive care unit, he told his TODAY co-hosts after returning to the show in January. Al was finally released from the hospital on Dec. 8, 2022.
However, Al says he only learned about the severity of his health issues after he left the hospital. His wife, Deborah Roberts, and younger daughter, Leila Roker, initially shielded him from knowing how sick he really was.
“I was home for maybe two or three weeks, and as we were decompressing and debriefing, Deborah and Leila talked about how difficult and bad it was. (Then) my brother talked about it,” he says.
Earlier this year, Roberts said the ordeal was “the worst roller coaster ride you have ever been on” and at one point, the family “really did think we were going to lose him” while his medical team struggled to find the source of his internal bleeding, TODAY.com previously reported.
When Al found out how serious things were, "I still was not anywhere near 100%, but I certainly was much better and once I knew, I felt like, well, that was bad, but I'm past that," he says.
Reflecting on his health scare and this time last year, Al says that he was already feeling motivated to return to TODAY and work toward recovery. He was especially looking forward to his knee replacement surgery, which he underwent in May.
"(I thought) well, what are you going to do? I’m just going to get better, and here we go, it’s next year," he says. “I’m not one much for looking back. I would prefer to look forward."
It was a long road to recovery, but patience and positivity helped tremendously. “I’ve had a number of visits to the hospital, and I’ve been used to snapping back pretty quickly, but as we get older, we don’t snap back as quickly," he says.
"I think (for me) it was a combination of severity and age ... but it may take you longer and you just have to kind of accept that,” says Al, adding he used a line from the movie "The Incredibles" as one of his life mantras: "We get there when we get there."
“Maybe you didn’t get there as fast as you wanted to, but as long as you get there, it’s OK,” he says.
When asked how his health scare changed his outlook on life, Al says it has strengthened the idea that "life can turn on a dime. ... We know that intellectually, but when you’re faced with it, it really does hit home."
“(Life) is an ephemeral gift that we’re given, and you need to appreciate and honor it,” he adds.
These days, Al says he tries to be much more intentional about making sure the people in his life know how he feels about them — whether it's giving extra goodbye hugs or saying "I love you" more on the phone. “We’re really not guaranteed anything,” he says.
Throughout the ordeal, Al has been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes from his TODAY family and fans.
"It was the little things that are not so little ... like having the TODAY show staff show up and carol, that was the first time I really got emotional," Al says. People still check in and ask how he is doing more than one year later, he adds, which is "very appreciated."
“I don’t think you can discount the power of positive thinking and the power of prayer, and I was the beneficiary of a huge amount of both," he says.
Another emotional milestone during his recovery was the birth of his first grandchild, Sky, in July.
These days, Al says he is trying to stay as healthy as possible. "I try to incorporate a little bit of activity (every day)," he says, adding that lately he starts the day by doing his weather briefings on the treadmill. "This way, I've knocked out 6,000 to 7,000 steps on the way to 10,000 for the day," Al explains.
Even before his health scare and recovery, Al has been committed to walking and documenting his progress in the Start TODAY Facebook group. When asked if he has any advice for others, Al says his "do what you can" mindset helps keep him motivated and moving every day.
"One of the many things I've learned from my wife is we do what we can. If you can't do four miles, what if you do a mile or a half a mile? ... Maybe it's not everything you wanted to do, but tomorrow is another day and you did something."
Al credits his granddaughter, Sky, as “another reason to get back in shape" and looks forward to celebrating the holidays as a grandparent for the first time.