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Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff Says What It Really Takes To Be A Stuntwoman

Jessie Graff is tough, and so is her work ethic and commitment to fitness

When Jessie Graff was growing up, she wanted to be a superhero. Unable to sit still, she practiced gymnastics, pole vaulting, martial arts, cliff diving and climbing and always had a thirst for adventure.

“I watched Buffy, Xena and Power Rangers and thought I’d be an actress,” says Graff, who is also a spokesperson for Under Armour. But then she realized that it’s not the actresses who perform stunts – it’s stuntwomen.

After college, she researched the stunt industry and trained in every area she could – Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, boxing, kickboxing, motorcycles and cars. Now she’s one of around 30 stuntwomen working fulltime in Hollywood. She’s also been in films such as X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids, Knight and Day and John Carter and has competed on American Ninja Warrior.

She chatted with us in NYC at the launch of Under Armour’s Unlike Any campaign:

Her #BHmoment: Be strong, not skinny
“I used to train thinking I had to be skinny to match the actresses. My bosses would literally tell me, ‘You have to stay out of the gym because you’re too muscular.’ I was always trying to be thinner. But after a knee injury I was like, OK, you can’t be fragile anymore. I wanted to build an armour of muscles to protect my joints so I’ll never be that fragile again. And if I look too muscular, whatever. I’m going to be strong enough to do all the skills that I want to do. I started thinking, ‘I want to be able to climb higher. I want to do more pull-ups. I want to rock climb.’”

On influencing young girls:
“The thing that’s really amazing is the way Under Armour is empowering and sharing the stories of women. I get these pictures and videos of little girls. Their parents say, ‘She used to be really into princesses and she watched a lot of TV. But now she’s climbing trees and doing obstacles and pull-ups and showing her muscles.’ It’s becoming cool for little kids to say, ‘I want to grow up to be strong and brave.’”

On staying focused:
“There are so many factors that you have to calculate for difficult stunts. If you’re jumping off a 36-foot bridge onto a moving train, you have to calculate the speed, the height. We drop sandbags to make sure they land in the centre of the boxcar instead of between the cars. Making sure you do everything perfectly is so essential. You can’t lose focus for a second.”

On a healthy diet:
“The only real rule I have is no artificial sweeteners. My general guidelines are try to eat something every three to five hours. Every time I eat, I try to make it a balance of protein, carbs and fat. Aim for whole grains and fruits rather than desserts. Usually when I eat, I’m having huge portions of dark greens, colourful vegetables, protein and a serving of quinoa or brown rice.”

Jessie Graff’s advice for getting into this tough industry:
“I always tell people who want to get into stunts that you really have to love it to succeed, because you’re going to get hit hard. You’re falling down the stairs. You’re falling off a building. It’s difficult and when you’re doing that for 12 or 18 hours, it’s going to get tiring. If you love learning every possible skill and training with the best people, then it’s so worth it. And if training all day sounds like a terrible thing, don’t be a stuntwoman.”

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