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Luci Romberg and the Art of Flying

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Luci Romberg is on an airplane again. She’s traveled the world with her mom and siblings, from Turkey to Bali to the Galapagos Islands, and she’s dropped in on her boyfriend, Chad, while he worked on movies in Romania and other locales.

But for Luci, jetsetting isn’t part of a pampered existence. She spends so much time at 30,000 feet because of her work, where she flies, you could say, much closer to the ground.

Luci, you see, is a national champion gymnast. But she’s not your ordinary tumbler. She’s also an action star. You’ve probably seen her martial arts, stunt work, and freerunning in film and on television, from Green Lantern to The Conjuring. (Pro tip: freerunning is a discipline, coined by Sébastien Foucan in 2003, to describe his more acrobatic and expressive evolution of parkour—the frenetic building-hopping practice that impressed audiences and filmmakers three years later in Casino Royale).

Unlike you, she’s been Melissa McCarthy’s stunt double. Unlike you, she’s in the next Transformers movie. But quite possibly a lot like you, she wasn’t born successful, and she credits her family for developing her apparently unstoppable power.

Raised in Colorado and living in LA, I caught up with Luci by email after her latest swing through Europe.

How long have you been doing freerunning professionally?

I was a national champion gymnast in college. Once I graduated I spent the summer traveling Europe with two friends. I moved out to LA in 2005 to get into stunts.

Was it a gradual transition from amateur work or did you dive right in?

It takes awhile to get established and to start working. I started out working on some low budget projects and then I started working consistently in mid 2008. It takes a lot of time and dedication to break into stunts.

How dangerous is it, really? People probably assume this is a line of work that’s plagued with injuries, right?

Stunt people are professionals and we make every stunt performed as safe as possible. It is of course dangerous, but things we do are calculated risks. There are injuries involved, but like I said we do things as safely as possible.

How do you stay in adequate physical condition?

I love to work out and train, so I do it quite often. My main activity is definitely freerunning. I spend a lot of time at the Tempest Freerunning Academy. I also enjoy plyometrics, martial arts, cross fit, and hiking.

The mental aspect has got to be essential, too. Where does your work ethic come from?

I think I get it from my parents. My mom is the hardest working person I know! Both my parents played tennis in college and then my dad was a tennis pro for 35 years. I played a lot of sports growing up and I was taught at an early age what it means to play and be active. In every sport I played, I strived to be the best that I could be, and I think that definitely helped shape my work ethic.

One of the centerpieces of your field is repetition—training over and over again, not believing you can do a stunt unless you can do it more than a few times. Has failure played a role in your approach to work and life? Were there moments where you thought you just couldn't do it, yet discovered you somehow could?

To be honest I don't really think about failure. The thought just doesn't enter my mind. If I want something, I go for it! No holding back. I have of course experienced failure in my life, but I try not to let it keep me down. I learn from it, move forward, and try to accomplish something else.

What do you hope people take away from seeing you in action?

To me, inspiration is one of the most powerful things you can experience. I want to inspire people—not necessarily to just get into freerunning, but to feel that positive experience of inspiration.

How far do you look into the future?

I definitely plan for the future. I know that I won't be able to do freerunning and stunts for the rest of my life. Unfortunately as you get older, body parts start to break down.

So is there a tension between setting goals and being fully present in the moment?

Goals are important to set. At the start of every year, I write down my goals for that year. It is important to enjoy the moment so I try to be as fully present as possible. I try to enjoy every minute but also set goals and plan for the future.

I know I don't want to do a job that I don't enjoy. I was a waitress for a long time, and I just didn't enjoy it. Even when I can't or don't want to do stunts anymore, I will find something else that I enjoy doing. Life is too short not to enjoy what you're doing.

Pretty much everyone feels like there are both external barriers to carving out our path as well as internal ones. What's been a greater challenge for you?

Definitely internal struggles have been the most difficult to overcome. I suffered from an eating disorder in college and my self-confidence was low. It took a long time for me to accept myself for who I am.

In fact, Luci just shot Tru Beauty—a short film about self-acceptance—that features her freerunning. Currently in the editing room, the film should be finished early next year and will be released soon thereafter. “I’m really excited about it,” she says. “I really put myself out there.”

Instead of holding back, Luci confided, “I put myself in a vulnerable position—but it will be worth it if I can inspire just one person to look inside themselves and love who they are.“ I wouldn’t bet against her on that one.