PUTTING HER life on the line is all in day's work for Carla McLeish, writes SARAH HUDSON
Carla McLeish has been run over by a car, dropped from a three-storey building, dragged behind a speeding boat and covered head-to-toe in searing hot flames.
It's not that the 36-year-old from Wodonga has rotten luck.
It's because she's a professional stuntwoman.
But believe it or not, Carla says she's damaged more body parts taking part in her weekend hobby rather than any stunt.
"I used to do downhill mountain bike racing and I now ride motorbikes on weekends. Most of the injuries I've ever had have occurred having fun, on my bike," Carla says.
"Sure you get bruises from stunts, but they're planned and quite safe. On bikes I've broken my ankle four times, had concussion more than eight times, fractured and bruised my ribs and wrist, and torn ligaments in my fingers."
What possesses a person to risk life and limb - or at least sanity - to be a stuntwoman?
For Carla, it's best summed up in one word: adrenalin.
"I get bored really easily and so I like to scare myself. It makes me feel good," she says.
With a hyperactive mind and body, Carla decided on the spur of the moment in 2006 to enrol in the Australian Stunt Academy in Queensland, the only one of its kind in the country. She had, she says, no grand plans to become a stuntwoman, it was just another release valve.
In a three-week course at the academy, she learned how to fall from a three-storey building on to an air bag, how to roll over the bonnet of a car travelling at 15km/h ("they speed it up on film"), how to jump from and be dragged behind a speeding boat, the best way to be a human torch, and finally how to fight and throw punches on camera.
She has attended the academy every year since, and even teaches there.
"It's worth it for anyone to do. You come out the other end feeling so good about yourself and learning really good life skills," Carla says.
"You get to know yourself more," she says. "You put yourself in positions where you are so nervous and you've got to hold it together."
Carla says the number one skill a person needs to be a stuntman or woman is the ability to withstand adrenalin. "People don't put themselves in these positions usually, so you have to control your emotions."
And beyond that fitness is important.
Aside from being a personal trainer in her spare time, Carla takes part in weekly gym sessions, tumbling and twisting to keep her body lithe.
Of course, the whole point of learning stunts is to perform on TV and in films. While Carla has produced and performed stunts in her own movies, she's yet to appear in one. "It's a very hard industry to get into. But I don't obsess about it. I just keep doing what I do. I'll keep plugging away."
"I'm actually quite young for the industry. There's even a stuntwoman in her 60s."
Carla raced BMXs between the ages of nine and 12, becoming Australian champion and competing around the country.
At 24 she took up downhill mountain bike racing - and was in the top five in Australia by the age of 28 - but was forced to give it up at 33 when diagnosed with a serious heart condition.
"I stopped on doctor's orders, but I was never going to stop doing things 'just in case'. I get chest pains every couple of weeks, but if it was going to kill me, it would have done so by now."
Carla says her singular passion does ostracise her at times.
"I don't want kids - I love them and I want to get married one day - but I never want to lose that ability to get out there and do what I want," she says.
"Some of my female friends are extreme sports athletes and they say once you've had kids you lose the ability to switch off that risk part of yourself.
"But then a lot of my friends and age group have babies and so have that in common and hang out together. It does isolate you a bit."