You may have heard of stunt woman Jessie Graff. The talented athlete turned a few heads when she donned a two-piece Wonder Woman outfit and dominated the American Ninja Warrior (ANW) course, giving other competitors serious competition. But even if you never heard of Graff, chances are, you've seen her work on film and television. She's done stunt work for G.I. Joe, Transformers, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Supergirl, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Hawaii Five-0, just to name a few. In fact, wearing that Wonder Woman outfit on ANW paid off as she was later tapped to do the stunt work for actress Gal Gadot in the movie Wonder Woman 1984.
For Jessie, this career path came naturally at age three when she decided she was going to join the circus. Her parents supported their eager daughter by enrolling her in circus gymnastics classes, where her talents flourished and her appetite for performing grew even more. "My first activity was circus gymnastics because I was in love with the circus. I got into competitive gymnastics and really thrived on the performance of trying to reach your peak level and get stronger and more capable and having somewhere to direct the energy," says Graff.
Since then, Jessie has not only done stunt work on some major movies and appeared on ANW, but she also appeared on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s sports competition reality series, Titan Games. Unfortunately, all of the competing and stunt work has been hard on her body. Jessie injured herself on season 12 of ANW, resulting in several surgeries on her knee and shoulder. She announced she would not be able to compete in Season 13 of the show.
“Part of me keeps trying to calculate whether I can regain my strength in time, but the reality is that I won’t be fully healthy until a few months after qualifiers,” she wrote on Instagram. “This time, I’m being smart and responsible, so I can heal fully and come back stronger than ever! This is just the first half of the song (and the story). But I’m so grateful for all the ways this time off has inspired me to learn and grow! I’m so excited to see where it all leads.”
Keep scrolling to learn about Jessie's remarkable career path and the fascinating workouts she swears by for staying in shape.
BYRDIE: At what moment did you decide that performing was something you wanted to do?
Jessie Graff: "I was three when I told my parents I was going to join the circus. I saw the performers on the flying trapeze and something just lit up in me. I immediately knew this was something I needed to do. I was 12 when I started seeing action heroes on TV and wanting to do that. Eventually, that goal was superseded. Because stunts are like the circus with a story, and I love being able to tell a story too."
BYRDIE: What was your first gig turning your athletic abilities into a job?
JG: "I taught flying trapeze at a summer camp when I was 15 to 17. I went to camp there and begged for extra turns and to be a demonstrator. And finally, when I was 15 I was hired as an assistant because I was big enough to be helpful. But my first real job after college was going straight into stunts. I got a job doing a 50-foot high fall backward off a building in Downtown L.A."
BYRDIE: How do you stay consistently strong and fit for this type of career?
JG: "I gravitate towards fun, exciting [workouts], climbing and jumping off things. But the more important part is the daily discipline of strength and conditioning. Honestly, I hate doing it cause it's so boring, but I found that if I have a specific fun goal that I'm working towards, it'll keep me inspired to do the boring stuff that I don't want to do but I know is good for me."
BYRDIE: What is your idea of a fun workout to keep you motivated and balance out the everyday conditioning?
JG: "I think it's important for those looking to be inspired is to find something you love doing. For me, I love flying trapeze, being outside and climbing—trees, rocks, buildings—the Santa Monica rings. It's just all about fun. I think it's really important to not be afraid to look dumb trying something for the first time. That's one of the reasons I've learned so many different skills—because I know if I'm a beginner I'll probably look dumb doing it, and that's totally fine and normal. So I'll just look dumb doing it for a while until I figure it out because it's fun to have that freedom."
BYRDIE: How did your background being a stunt woman help you get so far on America Ninja Warrior?
JG: "The course is designed to test how well-rounded you are. Since my specialty is doing weird, different activities, I'm pretty good at adapting and figuring out obstacles, and predicting how they're going to be weird and throw you off, and adjusting to that. What I was missing were specific muscle groups and strength. So it was very straight forward for me to know what to work on, which is grip strength, pull-ups, and explosive leg power, but it's different for everybody."
BYRDIE: What fun workout classes are good for getting out of a workout rut and having a little bit of fun?
JG: "Anti-gravity yoga classes. You're in circus-like hammocks holding yoga poses which is great for learning air-awareness. Flying Trapeze for sure! In Los Angeles, there's Richie Gaona's Flying Trapeze and Hollywood Aerial Arts."