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Once a Hollywood Stuntwoman, Placitas Resident Plunges Into Motivational Speaking

By Rosalie Rayburn
Journal Staff Writer
    Bouncing off a car hood, leaping through a stained glass window or felling a villain with a well-aimed kick were all in a day's work for stuntwoman Dana Hee.
    In the fantasy world of Hollywood, stuntmen and women thrive on the adrenaline surge that comes with surviving each death-defying challenge. They also face fear, danger and pain.
    In 13 years as a Hollywood stuntwoman, Hee suffered a damaged shoulder, a crushed kidney and had surgery on both knees.
    Three years ago, a slew of injuries convinced Hee to leave the bright lights of Hollywood for the hills of Placitas, where she is building a new career as a motivational speaker.
    "I say I had divine intervention as far as giving me that kick in the pants to move on to the next phase of my career," she said.
    Hee's almost enchanted life provides a rich source of inspirational material. Abandoned by alcoholic parents, she bounced between family members and she spent time in halfway homes, a government-run shelter and finally at a foster home. Somehow amid all that insecurity, Hee latched onto sports, where her natural talent fed a yearning to excel.
    In her late teens, a Stanford University coach spotted Hee's potential in high jump and encouraged her dream of competing in the Olympic Games.
    "I thought if I could win a medal I could win love and my life would turn around," Hee said.
    But under the pressure of competition, Hee's courage crumbled. It took six years and mastering a new sport before she realized her dream.
    Hee switched to tae kwon do, a Korean form of martial arts. She quickly excelled, winning second place in her first national competition. When Hee discovered tae kwon do would be introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, she took it as a sign.
    "The revelation hit me between the eyes. This was my second chance," Hee said.
    She won a gold medal in Seoul, defeating Danish competitor Karin Schwartz.
    The gold medal win unlocked a new world of opportunities. Hee became a campaign spokeswoman for United Way in the San Francisco area and a regular contributor to martial arts magazines.
    Next, one of the magazine editors called saying a movie maker needed someone who could do martial arts. Hee's, tae kwon do expertise, 5-foot 9-inch slender frame and strawberry blond hair fit the bill. To her, it sounded like fun.
    Hee's debut as a stuntwoman was the 1993 spy comedy, "Undercover Blues," with Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid.
    She did fights, jeep chases and hung from a helicopter.
    Was it scary?
    "I think I was having too much fun to be scared," Hee said.
    Nevertheless, many of the stunts she did were potentially life-threatening. When things got hairy, Hee practiced what worked in her Olympic training.
    "I learned to switch my focus away from my fears and narrow it onto what specifically had to be done at that moment. Then there was no room for my fears," she said.
    Hee has had plenty of practice putting fear at bay. A seven-minute video bio showcasing her TV and movie career is white knuckle material.
    Hee lashes out with her signature chin-level kicks in "Mortal Kombat Conquest," plunges from a window in "Martial Law" and crashes through a stained glass window in "Peacemaker."
    On her Web site, www.danahee.com, she lists her skills: kickboxing, high falls, precision driving, rock climbing, horse riding and fire work. She has been the stunt double for big name stars including Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.
    People with those stunt skills are hard to find, and Hee enjoys a strong reputation in the field, said stunt coordinator Mike Owen in a phone interview with the Journal.
    Owen is vice president of the International Stunt Association and a part-time Corrales resident.
    He said coordinators work hard with stunt people to reduce danger, but there's always an element of risk.
    "She (Hee) is extremely professional on set and very diligent. I'm a big fan of hers," Owen said.
    Based on his own experience, Owen said doing stunts was all about adrenaline.
    "It's a good feeling watching yourself pulling off these gags," he said.
    Despite the excitement, the travel and the glamour of the movie world, Hee eventually found herself wanting a more authentic lifestyle.
    Visits to a friend in Santa Fe convinced her that New Mexico was the place to go. She relocated to Placitas in 2004, where she enjoys hiking and riding horses.
    She also revived her speaking skills and has started giving motivational talks statewide. Hee will be the keynote speaker at the "Get Motivated" seminar and luncheon organized by the Novak Group on Thursday at the Sandia Resort and Casino.
    Placitas resident Dana Hee is an Olympic gold medalist, Taekwondo Grandmasters Society Hall of Fame inductee and movie stuntwoman. Her lengthy résumé includes dozens of TV shows, movies and roles as a double for leading ladies. They include:
    TV SHOWS: "X Files," "CSI: Miami," "Alias," "Baywatch," "Profiler," "Charmed."
    MOVIES: "Batman Forever," "Batman and Robin," "Lethal Weapon 4," "Spider-Man II," "Charlie's Angels," "The Astronaut's Wife," "Mortal Kombat," "Gangs of New York."
    DOUBLE FOR: Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Sandra Bullock, Geena Davis, Jennifer Garner.
    STUNT SPECIALTIES INCLUDE: Kickboxing, precision driving, high falls, water and snow skiing, horse riding, rock climbing.
    Hee will be the keynote speaker at the "Get Motivated" seminar and luncheon organized by the Novak Group on Thursday at the Sandia Resort and Casino. Information about the event is available at www.thenovakgroup.com.
    double for leading ladies. They include:
    TV SHOWS: "X Files," "CSI: Miami," "Alias," "Baywatch," "Profiler," "Charmed."
    MOVIES: "Batman Forever," "Batman and Robin," "Lethal Weapon 4," "Spider-Man II," "Charlie's Angels," "The Astronaut's Wife," "Mortal Kombat," "Gangs of New York."
    DOUBLE FOR: Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Sandra Bullock, Geena Davis, Jennifer Garner.
    STUNT SPECIALTIES INCLUDE: Kickboxing, precision driving, high falls, water and snow skiing, horse riding, rock climbing.
    Hee will be the keynote speaker at the "Get Motivated" seminar and luncheon organized by the Novak Group on Thursday at the Sandia Resort and Casino. Information about the event is available at www.thenovakgroup.com.