Her story is of the most inspiring that I have ever heard and the heart behind it makes it a very special tale indeed. So grab some popcorn and pull up a chair while I tell you about Mahsa Ahmadi. 

If you google her name the first thing you will see is that she is the first (and almost only) stuntwoman in her country, Iran. The challenges have been dangerously steep for Mahsa but as she mentioned several times in our sit down, ”If someone tells me there is something I can not do, I have to do it!”

Mahsa grew up 40 min from Tehran in the small town of Karaj, Iran. A country where women are required by law to be fully covered in public and where it’s illegal to touch a man (not even a handshake).

What small girl in her right mind would dare try to break into stunts in a place where most men don’t even have what it takes? There are so many juicy nuggets to that answer and I’m dying to tell all, so let’s just start at the beginning….

Mahsa enrolled in gymnastics at the age of 5. It was her mother’s dream to get her daughter to the Olympics. She wanted to see her travel outside of the country and experience the world, not an easy thing for a girl from Iran. Mahsa was a natural Champion from the jump. As she got a little older her mother wanted to increase her chances of making it big so she persuaded Mahsa to get into martial arts. Not really Mahsa’s cup of tea but she appeased her mom and gave it a go. Within 6 months (in perfect Mahsa style) she entered her  first Wushu competition and took the Gold medal.

She’s got talent, she’s got strength and what she has to offer in the way of Ambition, you’re about to find out…..

At a mere 16 years old Mahsa saw something on television that would change her life, and inspire the younger generation of girls in Iran and around the world.

A local Iranian man had moved to Germany to become a stuntman and was now staring at Mahsa through the screen. He was taking about his company Action Concept and sending her mind reeling. She decided right then and there. “I’m going to be a Stuntman!”

She managed to track down his number and begged him to meet with her. Let me remind you that she was only 16! He laughed, but her charm won him over and he agreed. She pleaded with him to help her, but as charismatic and determined as she was, it was simply too risky with the government, so he declined,

“If someone tells me I can’t do something, I have to do it.”

Shortly thereafter, Mahsa caught wind of another stuntman who was starting his own group and holding an audition for new members. With that, she was back on the phone and somehow convinced him to let her participate. There were 20 guys lined up with Mahsa standing at the end of the row. They were each asked to climb up and down the rope once but when they got to Mahsa, she was required to do it 3 times! When it was time for the high fall, the men jumped 10 feet but she had to do 20. She never complained, she just showed them what she was made of and in the end, he could not deny her talent, she was the only one accepted into the group.

It’s probably no surprise to hear that it’s illegal for women to train with men, and this will be the first of many more obstacles to come. Mahsa’s solution? She convinced the gym to give her one hour, a couple times a week, just to work on some basics. Less than ideal if she was to become an actual working stuntwoman, but she took what she could get and made the best of it.

At 17, her first job came literally by accident, the stunt coordinator was scheduled for a death-defying stunt but had gotten injured. Even though the stunt was for a man, they knew the only one who could do it successfully was Mahsa. The gag was not for the faint of heart, she had to flip from a 2 story building to another. It was 30 feet high and 10 feet across with NO SAFETY!

And so her career began. Since women have very little action in films in Iran, she mostly doubled men. Although the few times she did double the ladies, she was required to do the stunt in FULL DRESS. Again, it’s a law that women keep all but face and hands fully covered. Once Mahsa had to rapel 10 stories in long loose clothing with a scarf around her head. As a fellow stuntwoman, I can vouch for what a nightmare that would be!
Pretty soon Mahsa began getting work in Turkey (where there were also NO stuntwomen) and she didn’t speak the language. But since nothing gets in her way, she decided to teach herself and within 3 months she was speaking Turkish and taking the country by storm. 

(Sidenote: She also has since taught herself Azari, Arabic and English)

Every time she accomplished something great, she would be hungry for the next challenge. Now Mahsa decides she wants to do a Fire Burn! Her part of the world does not have the means or equipment we do here, there was no fire gel. But I bet you can guess what Mahsa did…SHE MADE HER OWN! And set herself ablaze for 13 seconds the first time out. In the photo below she sizzled for a full 24 seconds! Burn baby burn!

She was living her dream and honestly thought it couldn’t get better. And then SKYFALL came to Istanbul. Opportunity knocked and Mahsa answered. She and 2 other men on her team got the chance of a lifetime on a big Hollywood movie. 

AND HERE’S WHERE IT GETS REALLY GOOD!

This young girl with stars in her eyes finds herself on a James Bond film! She doesn’t speak English but that doesn’t stop her from making a huge impression on the biggest names in action movie making. When Gary Powell accepts the SAG Award for SKYFALL: Best Stunts in a Motion Picture, he makes a special acknowledgment to his Iranian team of only 3. This proves to be the highest compliment of Mahsa’s extraordinary life!  As far as she is concerned…she’s done it! THIS TRULY IS THE DREAM! She’s content to stay in Iran and enjoy her fame as the country’s FIRST and only stuntwoman. But it gets better….

Andy Armstrong (one of the biggest names in action films) finds himself in Dubai with a need for some local talent. Gary makes the referral and Mahsa is now teaching herself Arabic to keep up with her new job demands with yet another superstar Hollywood stunt coordinator. When I asked Andy about it, he enthusiastically shared this “we had her playing a man repelling down the side of one of the iconic buildings in Abu Dhabi and then Jen (Caputo – Hollywood’s go-to woman for all things stunts on wheels) chose her as one of her safety back up team when Jen performed an extremely violent car crash in the desert of the United Arab Eremites”.  For someone of Jen’s stature to put her life in the hands of this young girl certainly says a lot!

It was in Dubai that Mahsa discovered her first wind tunnel. She already had experience with paragliding but now she was determined to become the FIRST woman in Iran to SKYDIVE!

She would again need to rely on her charm and conviction to convince the authorities to allow her to jump. Why? You guessed it, it’s illegal! And this is a good time to remind you of her motto: 

”If someone tells me there is something I can not do, I have to do it!”

After a mere couple hours of training, her instructor demands the promise that she will obey anything he tells her to do and sends her up in the plane. She told me that this may have been the scariest moment of her life…not the jump, but the condition of the rickety plane!!!

The jump goes great. At 21 years old she is officially the first female skydiver! But the landing? That’s another story. As she is quickly nearing an open field, her instructor directs her to turn Left. She does, but sees it’s not a good idea and resumes position. He demands it twice more and against her better judgement, she ultimately honors her promise to obey. 

It all happened so fast, there was no time for anything other than the near fatal crash. Her entire body slams into a vehicle and she’s fully laid out with several broken bones and a lot of blood.

I’ll remind you that in this culture it’s illegal for a man to touch a woman in this case so, as they all stand around and stare, Mahsa begins assessing her own situation. It’s a broken nose, ribs, teeth and worst of all….a horribly broken LEG. She pulls her body up and somehow makes her way to the ambulance by herself.

The local hospital is worthless, not even good for pain meds. At this point she is sure she will die but there is no other choice then to jump in the car for a very long and very painful 16 hour drive to Tehran. 

The doctors put 3 pins in her ankle and tell her she’s looking at at least 1 year recovery and may never walk normally again. Stunts are certainly out of the question. Well, that is unless your name is Mahsa Ahmadi.

She removes her own cast at 45 days and in 3 months is walking by herself.  At 5 months, after saving all the money she could, she goes to Russia to complete her skydiving training. She pitches a tent at the drop zone to save time and money and gets to work. At 12 jumps a day, she clocks a total of 55 in just 2 weeks.

Back in Iran, they finally get their own wind tunnel. But it’s a mess! No one there has any experience and it’s a danger zone. Since Mahsa is the only one in the country with her level of experience, they hire her (A Woman!) to train the military MEN. 

Her next challenge? Adding another “First” at Base jumping.  She and her male buddies climb a 200′ crane on a construction site in the middle of the city. They will need to cross over 60 feet to the edge with tons of wires, obstacles and traffic below. It was the boy’s idea but guess who’s the first to jump? 

She had done it all, succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. But even she wasn’t crazy enough to dream of making it in America. And then came the call….

In 2015 Andy Armstrong rings to tell her that she is receiving the Action Icon “Crystal” Award and invites her to California. She has never flown alone and certainly not the 28 hours it will take. She had picked up a little English at this point but not much. And if you think that is going to stop this girl….you haven’t been paying very good attention.

Her new friends, Andy and Jen greet her at LAX and show her their heartwarming hospitality. She gratefully accepts her award and with the $500 she came with, she treats herself to her big dream of owning a Go-Pro. Life couldn’t possibly get better!

Before she’s back on the plane homebound, Lane Leavitt and George Peters get wind of her inspiring story and offer to sponsor her for a Green Card. WHAT? Taking a right hook from Mayweather couldn’t spin her head the way that did! It all happened so fast and quite miraculously. With only $50 in her pocket, she had no idea how this was going to work but more people stepped up to help her and handed her a dream. Los Angeles truly is the City of Angels! Her papers processed at lighting speed and before she even had a chance to think about it was done. Sadly, the Travel Ban was hot off the press so going home to celebrate with her family would not be an option for some time. She barely knew a soul, only a little broken English and was staring at a whole new life in America.

In one fell swoop, she went from being a single fish in a tank to being dropped in the ocean with thousands of others. Now, 3 years later, she has garnered over 50 credits….and speaks perfect English.

Even for a modern American woman, life in LA can be a competitive rat race. It’s a town oversaturated with starry eyed newcomers trying to break into show business and people at every corner telling you “You don’t have what it takes”. Certainly a culture shock for a young girl from Iran, but since Mahsa is no stranger to rejection and opposition, my bet is on her!

Nothing will stop this incredible woman from anything she wants and being a World Renowned Stuntwoman is definitely her DESTINY. 

 

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MS. DANIELLE BURGIO, Actress, Stuntwoman, Filmmaker

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