Jessie Graff is mostly known for showing off her impressive skills on American Ninja Warrior, but the 33-year-old’s television appearances don’t end there– Graff has also been a stunt woman on a number of TV series and films. Tonight, she will be competing on season 9 of American Ninja Warrior.
Read on to learn more about ninja Jessie Graff.
1. She Is a Black Belt in Taekwondo
Graff has been an athlete since she was young. At age six, she began taking circus classes. Three years later, she turned to gymnastics.
Interestingly enough, Jessie never planned on making fitness and stunt work her career. Her father teaches middle school drama, and her mother is a dancer and actor. According to ESPN, Graff told her mother she wanted to be an actress when she was younger, and her mother told her to go into the Olympics because “it’s easier to get into show business that way.”
Graff has a blackbelt in Taekwondo, a black sash in Kung Fu, and is trained in five other styles of martial arts. She has appeared as a stunt double on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Goldbergs, Supergirl, Criminal Minds, Pretty Little Liars, and more.
2. She Is a Championship Pole Vaulter
According to ESPN, Graff won six Maryland State championships for pole vaulting, the 2001 Young Women’s AAU Junior Olympic Nationals, and placed fifth at the US Junior National Championships in 2002. She held her high school’s record for eight years.
Graff hoped to make it to the Olympics, and came within an inch and a half of qualifying for the Olympic trials. Her junior year, she decided to go for something different. Graff told WBUR, “needed a new motivation,” Jessie says. “And I saw this ad on TV — it was, like, E! Entertainment or something — and they were, like, ‘Yeah, they wanna make a new Wonder Woman movie and they haven’t decided who to cast yet. They’re thinking maybe somebody unknown.’ And I was, like, ‘I gotta do it. I wanna do it.'”
Jessie has said that she’s always been inspired by Xena the Warrior Princes. She recently told WBUR 90.9, “She was just this strong, heroic woman who rode around on a horse with a sword, and I wanted to be a hero like her… I’d tape every episode and go back and watch them and just pick apart the form of what she was doing. How she would do these flying sidekicks. And so I would kick down all the dead trees in the woods near my house.”
3. She Has a Pet Pig Named “Sammo Hog”
Jessie’ pet pig, Sammo Hog, accompanies her on her ninja travels. According to a Mirror article published last year, Sammo flew with Jessie from her flight from Arizona to California in 2015. Comedian Rich Guzzi was on the same flight, and told the outlet, “We thought it was amazing. The pig sat on command and was so well behaved. It was just like the dogs everyone takes on board.”
4. She Studied Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech
Graff earned a scholarship to Georgia Tech for pole vaulting. After one year, she transferred to Nebraska to study theater and acting.
After graduating, Jessie moved to LA to pursue an acting career, which led to a meeting with her mother’s agent. The agent reportedly looked at her resume, which Jessie, coincidentally, had made for the circus in high school, and said she should be a stunt woman. “… she shooed me out of her office before I even knew what was going on,” Graff jokes, thinking back on the memory.
5. She Was the First Woman to Complete Stage 1 of the Vegas Finals Course
Jessie is the second woman to ever reach ANW’s Las Vegas finals course, and the first woman to complete stage one of the Sasuke course. In an interview with the LA Times, Graff explained why she started training for ANW in the first place. “I initially decided to do ‘American Ninja Warrior’ because it looked like a fun challenge. I wanted to test my limits and see how strong I could get.” She says that the first time around, she didn’t necessarily train for American Ninja Warrior. Graff soon realized that she needed to develop certain skills if she wanted to get further.
As of 2015, Graff was training five days a week– in her free time, she would experiment with high falls, trapeze, sky diving, and stunt driving.