Suzanne Rampe used to spend her free time doing relatively safe things. She'd pound volleyballs against shiny gym floors, kick a ball on a neatly groomed soccer field or ride the waves in front of her house on The Strand in Hermosa Beach.
Those were the good old days. Now the Mira Costa High graduate spends most of her time risking her life. She flips from trampolines, dives from buildings and runs around in flames. On weekends she goes to a "secret location" in Carson to practice 180-degree turns in a car traveling at high speeds.
"I love the driving," Rampe said. "I like to throw the cars around. It's the most exciting."
For those who haven't picked up on it, Rampe, who played volleyball at El Camino College and USC, is an athlete turned Hollywood stuntwoman.
Her stunt training includes precision driving, fire, high falls, fencing, rock climbing, horses, stair falls, motorcycles, fights and water work.
A diverse athletic background has helped Rampe in her profession, which like sports, can be enjoyable but is also physically and mentally demanding.
"It's fun, but it's also a big challenge," said the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Rampe. "It's definitely not easy."
As a youth Rampe, 26, played Little League baseball and soccer. At Mira Costa, she competed in volleyball, soccer, swimming and track. At 16, Rampe won the American Surfing Assn. women's national title in Hawaii.
After that she was part of El Camino's 1981 state champion volleyball team. Her postseason performance as a setter and hitter earned her most-valuable-player honors in the state tournament.
Former El Camino volleyball Coach Charleen Zartman remembers Rampe as a great, all-around player with excellent physical conditioning and a superior fundamental base.
"She could do anything under pressure," said Zartman, who led the Warriors to nine league titles and two state championships. "She was a great clutch hitter and a smart hitter when it came down to the winning point.
"All the other girls had a hard time performing under pressure, but not Suzie. When the pressure was on she would really shine."
After a season at El Camino, Rampe walked on at USC as a setter and hitter. A solid performance as a sophomore earned Rampe a scholarship for the remainder of her college career.
It was during Christmas break of her sophomore season, in 1982, that Rampe was introduced to her dare-devil profession. Her mother, who died shortly after Rampe began stunt work, got her into the business.
"My mom used to talk to everyone who used to sit in front of our house on The Strand to watch the sunset," Rampe said. "One day there was a guy sitting there and my mom just started talking to him. It turned out he was a stunt coordinator and my mom said 'my daughter would really like to do that.' "
Shortly after that, Rampe got her first job doing minor stunts in a B movie called "Lovelines." She was thrown over a table and was a passenger in an all-terrain vehicle that crashed through a garage door.
"I really enjoyed it, but I knew I needed a lot of training," Rampe said. "I knew I had to learn the technical things."
Rampe said she received her best training from Greg Elam, a Carson-based stuntman who recently played Eddie Murphy's double in "Another 48 Hours." For about a month, she practiced various stunts with Elam at different Carson parks.
Now she's working with fellow stuntman Scott Leva on acrobatic high falls, a difficult stunt few women have mastered.
The fall, which includes a lot of flipping and turning in the air, is supposed to look like it's out of control. Leva, a stuntman of 12 years, said it is tough to learn, but that Rampe is making great progress.
"She's got a lot of talent," he said. "She picks things up real quick and she's very good."
Leva, a former gymnast, believes car stunts are Rampe's specialty although he said "she definitely knows her stuff with burns."
"She's wonderful with cars," he said. "She can put a car on the mark all the time. She can do a reverse 180 and come out real clean every time. She really handles the car like a pro."
Rampe said cars are fun, but burning is prestigious since only a handful of those in the business will do it.
"I told myself when I first got started, 'I will \o7 never\f7 do fire. Whoever does that is crazy!'
"But my former boyfriend specialized in it and a movie came up that had an actress with my build."
She took the job and she's been on fire since. The USC Drama major has performed in 16 movies and more than 10 television shows. She played Meg Ryan's double in "Joe Vs. The Volcano," she fell into a pit in "Fletch Lives" starring Chevy Chase and she was involved in a bar-room brawl in "Another 48 Hours," starring Murphy and Nick Nolte.
Rampe said she received a beating in "Joe Vs. The Volcano." A boat similar to the one used in the movie was put in large tank of water on the set and waves were created. Rampe said she got smashed repeatedly against the boat by the powerful fake waves.