I had always lived an active lifestyle. My early years were spent in the tiny South Australian town of Terowie with a population of only 145, so we were used to making our own fun.
Then later, while living in the southeast of SA on eight acres, I enjoyed a wonderful childhood filled with endless rows of trees to climb and a labyrinth of bumpy bike trails to uncover. Friends and I would gather a packed lunch, jump on our horses and ride for hours without a care, only returning as darkness set in.
It was a happy childhood and I sailed through school and finished, like many teenagers, unsure of what I wanted to do. Mum suggested business management, and at the time it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
But it was while I was doing the course that my life changed forever. I was on a date and the boy I was with was driving way too fast. We were hurtling down the highway, and I tentatively asked him to slow down, not wanting to sound too unsophisticated. He told me not to worry, and the next thing I remember, I was bracing for an accident that would leave my L3 vertebrae severely damaged.
It came as a huge shock. To be stuck lying on your back staring at the ceiling at age 19 is a devastating blow. To have a nurse shower you and take you to the toilet is an immense loss of freedom. You try to pretend you’re elsewhere, but your heart sinks. There were days when I believed I’d never leave the house again. You feel ill and you think, ‘How can I live my life like this?’ I never really cried throughout the whole process. I couldn’t.
I had been spared the emotional and mental agony of paraplegia, but the doctors said I’d never fully recover and to expect constant back pain. They said to forget playing sport or having children.
But six months later I was fed up. I remember thinking, ‘This has been far too much time for anyone to be stuck inside’ and I couldn’t accept that this was it for me. I was undergoing an intense program of rehabilitation and I just started to push myself even further. A few months after casting myself on the road to recovery, I was well enough to get out of bed and finish my business management course.
Upon completion, I approached a local outdoors centre with my newly acquired skills and offered them a marketing plan in return for outdoor training – abseiling, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking. I soon became skilled in helping others push themselves, too. I worked with school kids, corporate groups and juvenile offenders, all the while expanding my own skills.
It wasn’t until I was tumbling down sand dunes with a bunch of kids that I considered another change in direction. Bouncing off the sand, one kid looked up at me and said, “You should be a stuntwoman.”
It was something I’d never considered. My sister was living in Canada at the time and with this curious notion in my head, I tentatively mentioned it to her. With great gusto she told me that Canada was the ‘Hollywood of the North’ and movie production was booming.
So that was that. I packed my bags and headed north. I had no training, no qualifications, no experience and at 26, I was old. Everyone I met said, “Sorry, it’s not going to happen for you.” So I said, “It’s going to happen for me.”
I started an intense routine of training: martial arts, wire work, tumbling and weapons. It seemed like the impossible dream, but I had never wanted something so much.
And then, at 27, I got my first gig. I had put so much on the line and had no back-up plan. I phoned my mum and cried. Six months later, the work just kept coming. Since then I have worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names including Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and even Ellen DeGeneres. Donning a blonde wig, I played Sharon Stone’s double opposite Halle Berry in Catwoman. It was amazing to see all my training put to good use.
I’m a bit of a comic-book geek so when the chance came to work alongside Hugh Jackman on X-Men 3, it was an opportunity I could not turn down. To fight Wolverine was a bit of a dream come true. Since then I’ve gone on to work with Toni Collette in United States of Tara and alongside Chris Hemsworth of Home and Away fame in Thor (due for release in 2011). To this day, I have never had any pain in my back.
Most recently I have been filming the fourth instalment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series in Hawaii – in a first for me as a mermaid. I’m now based in LA but am lucky enough to be able to head back home to the comforts of Mum and Dad’s every now and then.
On my most recent trip, my aunty asked me if I’d be interested in helping her with a mentoring program for young rural children. I jumped at the chance. At one school I met an extraordinary girl, Ruby, who had survived kidney failure as a four-year-old, thanks to the doctors and nurses at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide.
I loved her enthusiasm and her questions about being a stuntwoman. In fact, her story inspired me this year to take to the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range in California to raise money for the hospital. In the Hike for Survival, I joined wilderness survival expert Thomas Coyne on a 200-kilometre journey from the Kaweah River Reservoir to the Mojave Desert, with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a pocket knife. As well as raising money, we hoped to inspire others – young people in particular – to get into the outdoors and live life to the full.
I’ve always wanted to give back in some way. And I want to tell the kids that they can do whatever they want in life. It may not be easy but they can do it.
My story doesn’t feel so special to me, but I hope it can inspire other people to achieve their dreams.