Survival expert, award-winning stunt performer, TV host & author of Girl's Own Survival Guide
Bear Grylls admires her 'spirit and determination to live life to the max', describing her as 'one of life's fighters and survivors'.
The nod of approval from the world’s best known adventurer and survivalist is high praise indeed for Ky Furneaux, who broke a bone in her back in a car accident at nineteen and was told she’d never be physically active again. But what pleases Ky most is the fact that she knows she can pretty much handle anything that life throws at her. She’s proud to be known as a fighter – on and off the screen.
Ky won a Taurus Award – the Oscars of the stunt industry – in 2012 for Best Female Stunt Performer in the world. She has doubled stars such as Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Jaime Alexander and Sharon Stone. She has co-hosted, produced and participated in TV survival shows. For the woman who grew up in the middle of nowhere in South Australia, it was a long way to the top.
Ky was doing a Bachelor of Business Management ‘without much intent’ when she was the passenger in a car that hit a power pole on the Adelaide freeway at about 80 kph. ‘I instinctively put my arm up which took the dashboard hit instead of my head. I heard a crack – I knew I’d hurt my back.
‘The X-rays showed I’d broken a bone in my back but fortunately there was no nerve damage. I had to wear a brace, and spend a lot of time flat on my back. I did extensive rehab. About six months in, a friend took me rock climbing as part of back strengthening, and that opened many possibilities. I just knew I couldn’t be cooped up inside – I didn’t want to sit still ever again.’
Ky finished her degree but became an outdoor guide, working with school groups, corporates, team-building groups and juvenile offenders. She took pride in being physically strong from climbing, doing high ropes, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. Someone on a camp she was running suggested she’d be a good stunt woman and the idea took hold. She was heading off to Vancouver and took the opportunity to find out everything she could about the industry. It was hard work, and lonely too, away from home. She eventually got the number of a guy who trained stunt performers, and he became her fight mentor. She fell in love with fighting, and set herself some big goals. She laughs at how naïve she was at the start. ‘The first time I got punched in the face, I didn’t realise it was going to hurt. I was doing kick boxing training, and I went into the bathroom and cried. It really hurt! Once I realised what being a stunt performer was all about, I was determined to make it. I had a big dream. I trained hard and chased up every lead and my perseverance paid off.’
"You think you’re the only one who has voices of doubt. Every time I stand on the edge of a cliff and I’m about to jump off, a voice in my head is like, Don’t do it! What are you doing?"
Ky loves fighting – the moving, the choreography. She loves the thrill of the physical challenge. ‘It’s also a really good way of getting out physical aggression. Somehow when I’ve been fighting constantly, I feel most calm.’
To be a good stunt double, you need to have a solid sense of who you are in the world. ‘You don’t go into stunts wanting to be famous because someone else gets all the credit for your work,’ Ky says. ‘If the viewer can tell there’s a stunt performer there, you haven’t done a good job. I’d already spent a lot of time on my own and in
the outdoors when I went into the industry. I know who I am at my core, so I could have fun with all those other personas. I mean, not everyone gets to be an ancient Viking warrior as part of their job!‘
With stunt work, Ky quickly discovered you have to believe in yourself 100 per cent, or the consequences could be disastrous, and it taught her some good lessons for life. She prides herself on her preparation, and the self-belief she’s developed from a career of putting herself on the line, physically.
‘I think there are negative voices in everyone’s heads to some degree. You think you’re the only one who has voices of doubt. Every time I stand on the edge of a cliff and I’m about to jump off, somewhere in my head a little voice is going, Don’t do it! What are you doing? If I’d listened to that voice and never jumped off the cliffs, I wouldn’t have lived half the life I’ve lived.’
"You have to believe in yourself 100 per cent."
The best character she got to play was doubling Jaime Alexander as Sif in Thor. ‘She was a warrior goddess who wore full armour – she wore sensible fighting clothes. Most of the females I’m doubling are fighting unrealistically in high heels and small dresses!
‘People often comment that I don’t look like a fighter,’ Ky says. ‘I probably challenge some stereotypes, because people expect females who fight to be butch and aggressive in their personal lives as well as in their professional lives. I always think, What does a fighter look like? It has nothing to do with how tall I am, or my appearance, it’s what’s inside. It’s the fight that you have inside that you bring to the game that’s the most important thing.
‘I’ve had to fight hard to achieve my goals. I was never a winner growing up, I was never the one out in front. I believe you learn a lot from losing. You’re not who you are as a winner, you’re who you are when you lose. It makes you humble – you’re open to learning. It shapes who you are. I’ve learnt I have to practice, go back and try harder, and never ever give up.
"You learn a lot from losing. You’re not who you are as a winner, you’re who you are when you lose. It makes you humble – you’re open to learning."
‘You don’t die if you lose a race, a game, a competition or if you don’t get a job you want. It really doesn’t matter at the end of the day – it’s not life or death. There’s a graciousness in defeat, and it helps you take the ego out of things.
‘That said, when I won the Taurus Award, that was spine-tingling. I was thinking, These women are the best and I beat them all! But mostly it felt like a reward for the years of hard work it took to get to the top.’
Ky believes there’s something we can all learn from superheroes. ‘Stand tall like a superhero, and you can become one,’ she says. Even though she no longer carries a sword as a job, in her mind she continues to adopt the superhero’s stance as a way of accepting new challenges. She also has a tattoo: ‘I’m not afraid, I was born to do this’. She laughs. ‘People think I got that for stunts, but I got it for public speaking!’
Q & A
Is there a trick to being brave when you're about to tackle something really hard?
Whether I’m about to jump off a tall building, or do public speaking, whenever I need to be brave I follow the same routine. I examine what that little voice inside my head is saying to see if it’s relevant and then put it away in a box to deal with later. There is no room for fear or doubt when you are committing to something you need to do, especially in the stunt business! Just before they call ‘Action!’ I take a deep breath and say, ‘I can do this.’ Try it – it works.
How do you be brave when life throws something unexpected at you?
I find STOP LOOK LISTEN is a really useful technique, from my outdoor education days. It helps you stop panicking, or running off and getting into bigger trouble. It takes just a few seconds.
STOP: Take a second to assess your situation, to explore what your fear is and where it's coming from.
LOOK: Asses what’s really happening. Are you doubting yourself? Or are you actually in danger?
LISTEN: To the whole situation to get the big picture.
Pause, then decide how best to proceed. Going through this quick routine allows you move forward proactively rather than reactively.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
I would tell her that it’s OK to be different, to stand out from the crowd. Too often we try to hide the things that make us unique, yet these are often the things to embrace and polish and be proud of. It can be a harder path because sometimes it feels like you are going against the flow but in the long run it’s worth it: you can look inside and know you stayed true to who you are. Knowing this at a younger age would have made me more confident about who I was and how I presented myself to the world.
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Andrea McNamara is a Melbourne-based publishing consultant and content manager with 18 years' experience in the book industry at Penguin and Allen & Unwin. As the commercial non-fiction publisher at Penguin, Andrea was instrumental in establishing a publishing partnership with the AFL in 2012, producing titles such as The Rise of the Swans, The Mighty Fighting Hawks, and Emma Quayle’s The Draftees. She also had a hand in the popular Footy Kids series.
At Penguin she published many bestselling books including Jim Stynes' memoir, Kurt Fearnley's Pushing the Limits, Sue Williams' Father Bob, the autobiographies of Shane Crawford and Jonathan Brown and eight Michelle Bridges books. She project managed Mark Thompson’s Bomber: The Whole Story.
Andrea now works with trade publishers, businesses and brands. She initiates and manages projects, editing, writing and publishing across a broad range of non-fiction genres, from inspiration and motivation, leadership and business, to outback adventures, true crime, animal stories and health and wellbeing.