Jessie Graff wanted to be a superhero like the ones she saw on TV ever since she was 12 years old. A professional stunt woman, Jessie skyrocketed to fame after appearing on the show American Ninja Warrior, in which she has achieved many firsts, including being the first woman to be invited to join the US team on the “US vs. World” special, the first woman to complete Stage 2 in this special, and the first woman to complete Stage 1 in the Las Vegas National Finals. Having grown up doing martial arts and gymnastics, she realized that she wanted to do stunts full time towards the end of college. She spent her time studying what other professional stunt artists did, all the while training nonstop.
When asked about the most rewarding part of her job, she said “it’s hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment when I do something that I previously thought was impossible, proving to myself that I’m capable of more than I knew. Getting to share that journey with thousands of women and little girls, who are sending me pictures and videos of their progress, is beyond anything I’d ever imagined for myself.” Jessie is a role model to young girls inspiring them to achieve anything they put their minds to.
The American Ninja Warrior courses require precision, strength, and endurance. When faced with so many challenging obstacles (both physical and mental), she thinks of them as inspiration. In fact, it’s the monotonous day-to-day challenges like strength training, injury prevention exercises, and healthy eating that tend to be the hardest, and remembering how much she loves challenges and the impact she can have on young girls and women motivates her to be disciplined through these exercises.
During her time training for American Ninja Warrior, Jessie learned some life lessons related to fitness and overcoming obstacles. These are her top four pieces of advice for young girls seeking physical and mental motivation.
1) You’re stronger than you think. You can conquer almost any obstacle, if you’re willing to work for it. Expect things to feel impossible at first, but do the progressions, and your perception of impossible will change.
2) Fitness is fun. Find sports that you like and set goals that inspire you, so that working out feels like playing. Surround yourself with people who share common goals and are willing to walk (or in my case swing and jump!) with you through it all.
3) Never let anyone tell you “you can’t, because you’re a girl.” We may have to train smarter and harder, to keep up strength-wise, but if we surpass them in technique, strategy, and quick thinking, we can beat the guys.
4) Try to look at every set back in terms of how you can grow from it, and you’ll always keep moving forward. I have improved every year that I’ve competed on ANW – not only despite a blown out knee/ACL surgery, but in large part, because of it.
When asked how it feels to be a role model for so many young girls who aspire to athletic greatness, she said, “I am proud, grateful, and honored. It’s a huge responsibility to have the eyes of so many little ones on me, but I think I’ve always tried to live my life in a way that’s worthy of being looked up to. I get to encourage girls to be strong, confident, responsible, and healthy. It’s just such a privilege to have this opportunity to make a difference.”
Contributor: Megha Keshav