DONOTFEAR

I’ve been hanging up here for about five minutes, suspended 180 feet above a parking lot. A single wire, attached to my harness by a 200-foot crane keeps me from plummeting to earth. It’s a chilly January night and there is a hustle on the ground below as 80 or so crew members prepare for the shot.

There are 3 cameras on me and I’m getting ready to perform an uncommon stunt: landing a parachute in a simulated BASE jump for the opening scene in a new TV series. My parachute is open and pinned across a spreader bar with pony clips. In theory, when I’m dropped into my parachute, it slips, ideally, out of the pony clips and inflates the canopy fully. That way, I can land as naturally as possible on a mark, in front of camera.

But this stunt has never been done this way before. Earlier today, our rehearsals were less than successful due to high winds. I had ended up in a tug-of-war between the crane and the wind, which inflated my parachute, pulling me close to nearby buildings, almost 20 stories above the ground.

Still, it’s quiet up here.  My view is north west facing Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge.  Five minutes is plenty of time to think about the universe, the life choices we make, and the meaning of life. But I have to stay focused.

Even though this is a dangerous stunt, I’m confident that my stunt coordinator and stunt riggers are on the ball and have covered all the bases, and my back. If my chute doesn’t inflate properly, then the riggers will be on the brakes to the line I’m attached to, which will stop me before hitting the ground. I’ve worked with these guys for 10 years or more. They have become good friends and I trust them with my life.

Besides being a Stuntwoman, I’m also a Stunt Actor. For this scene, I have to deliver four lines of dialogue when I land in front of the camera. I’m hoping not only to fall successfully, but to deliver an acting performance worthy of a one-take clap. If I mess it up, we will have to go again.

“Are you ready, Lani?” hollers a stunt rigger through a megaphone. Apparently, this is the second time he’s asked me; they didn’t hear my answer the first time.

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“Yes,” I yell down again. Heart racing, adrenaline pumping. Fully present and ready. Let’s do this!

“Alright, here we go! And 3, 2, 1, GO!” The rigger yells just as he hits the button to release my wire, dropping me into my chute.

Do I feel fear? Yes. But it’s not going to prevent me from doing my job. Actually I think it makes me better at it because I am more aware, cautious and present at the moment.

Now what do you think is going through my mind as I start to freefall? Read on to find out.

People always ask about my scariest stunt because they are fascinated by fear and how I deal with it. They immediately start to think about whether they could or would do something similar like crash a car, freefall for 61 metres (200 feet), hold their breath for 90 seconds in cold water or get thrown through a wall. Most of the time, when I talk about my bigger stunts, people usually respond with something like “That’s nuts,” “You’re crazy,” or “Awesome!”

From these reactions, I quickly started to realize that people outside a stunt profession or extreme sport process fear very differently than I do. It’s not that I am not afraid or have no fear. It’s just that as a Stuntwoman, I face my fears on a regular basis. I process them very differently than those who rarely confront their fears.

I don’t believe we are born to be fearful. I’m pretty sure it’s something that we learn in childhood from our environment and major influences. When something traumatic or frightening happens and we don’t fully understand or process the experience, we can form a fear or phobia from the negative association of that event. Since, as a child, we don’t process or understand a lot of what’s happening around us, fears are easily formed or passed down from our parents.

I think fear can be healthy and essential in survival as long as you process it and don’t let it debilitate you. It brings your awareness and attention to a situation that could be dangerous. But after you have a full understanding of a situation, you can easily subdue and overcome fears.

Remember: There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

So, what was going through my mind right before I’m about to jump? The four lines of dialogue I had to deliver immediately after landing.

See below for a short behind the scene clip of the actual stunt.