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Ms. Leigh Hennessy


Lafayette, LA & Scotland some, LA & Scotland

Self-employed stunt performer in Film
% The United Stuntwomen's Assoc., 4741 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Ste. 103
Valley Village, CA 91607
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UL Athletic Newsletter Submitted by Leigh Hennessy Robson - July 9, 2020 - as part of the history of USL Gymnastics/Trampoline and updated July 30, 2020.

After my father, USL (now UL) Trampoline Coach Jeff Hennessy, passed away in 2015, I learned stories about him that I didn’t know or realize before.

USL over LSU

My mother told me a story a couple of years ago that I had never heard before. She said Dad was faced with a professional choice in his budding career that made a huge impact on his young family’s lives. In the late 1950s, after teaching high school for a couple of years, he applied for jobs around the state to teach Physical Education at a university. He got two job offers: one from UL (USL at the time) and one from LSU. LSU offered more money, but USL offered the flexibility to develop his trampoline team. He chose USL.
The next 30+ years had their ups and downs, but I’m thankful every day that he made that decision. Mom was, too.

Our lives would have been vastly different in a different city and without trampoline in our lives.

No Income for Coaching

Not clear to me at the time of his passing, I also learned that he was paid only to teach Physical Education, not to coach.

He never said anything about that to us. For dedicating an extra (minimum) 25 hours a week to make USL the one place where the world’s best trampolinists wanted to train, he was never paid.

These were among numerous stories family, friends and colleagues told me about Dad that make me proud to be his daughter. However, there are some stories I already knew that make me equally proud.

Empowered Women

Dad was ahead of the curve on many fronts. Among them, he elevated women athletes. When he arrived at USL, it was rare for women and girls to compete in sports.

The USL Trampoline team existed ten years before Title IX became law in 1972. In spite of that, in 1967 Dad was the first coach at the university to offer a woman a full athletic scholarship in any sport.

He recruited a young gymnast from Illinois, Judi Ford - who many know became Miss America in 1969. She performed a trampoline routine in the talent portion of the contest, which surely helped her win.

The second woman to earn a full athletic scholarship at USL was me in 1976. By that point I was a high school honor graduate and had won World titles representing the United States, so Dad had no problem offering it to me in spite of being his daughter.

It was so unusual for a women to have an athletic scholarship at USL, that when I went to the Student Union bookstore to get my text books with my scholarship ID, the cashier hesitated to give them to me. She asked me if I was getting them for my boyfriend. NO! I told her they were for me! She relented and gave them to me.

Since trampoline scholarships were limited, to recruit more women athletes to compete on his team, Dad had to be creative. He took advantage of university funds such as a work-study program where a recipient had to work part-time at the school for their tuition and books.

At the end of his tenure, he had recruited several talented women athletes from Lafayette and around the country.

Thrived without a Budget

The USL Trampoline Team under Coach Jeff Hennessy had no budget from the university. Instead, the school gave the team 2 full scholarships a year; a facility for training; excused our class absences for competition travel; and we were able to raise funds by teaching children’s trampoline classes, developing hundreds of local kids. Many ended up on the team.

Because Dad was driven and innovative, he was able to accomplish a lot with little. As a result, he pioneered a new international Olympic sport and figured out ways to get us through college, train and fly us around the world so that we could become Champions.

At the end of the day, he coached
more World and US National Trampoline Champions than any coach in the world.

* * * * *

Leigh Hennessy Inducted into USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame

Former UL Athlete Leigh Hennessy

Inducted into USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame

by Mark B. Robson

Leigh Hennessy, who won numerous national and world championships while competing as a member of the UL trampoline team in the 1970�s, was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame during the 2007 Visa Championships in San Jose, California, in August. Leigh was raised in Lafayette and earned a B.A. as well as a master's degree in communication at UL.

The USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor that is bestowed on only a small number of gymnasts and coaches who reached the highest level in their respective sports. Her father, the legendary UL trampoline coach, Jeff Hennessy, was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1992. They are the only father-daughter team in the Hall of Fame.

Other members of the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame include Olympic gold medal winners Bart Conner, Mary Lou Retton, Peter Vidmar, Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes, and Shannon Miller.

During her acceptance speech in San Jose, Leigh noted that becoming a world champion while a member of the UL trampoline team �was not an unattainable, unimaginable goal.� In fact, because she was surrounded by national and world champions, and coached by the most successful trampoline coach in history, it was considered normal.

Leigh won her first world title at the age of 14 at the World Age-Group Championships. Later, as a UL student-athlete, she won many more world titles, bringing even greater fame and prestige to a UL trampoline team that Jeff Hennessy had groomed into the best in the world.

In 1978, Leigh was the first athlete, male or female, to win all three trampoline events at a national championships. She eventually earned a place in Guinness World Records for winning the most US national championships for women.

At the 1978 World Age-Group Championships, she also won all three events. That same year at the World Championships, she set the world record score for women�s double mini-tramp, a record that stood until 1992. She was named the Southern AAU Athlete of the Year in 1978. The International Trampoline Federation honored her in 1982 for her lifetime achievements, and she is also a member of World Acrobatics Society Hall of Fame.

As a world-class athlete, Leigh represented the United States around the world, and in 1974 she was a member of the first U.S. trampoline team to compete in the Soviet Union.

Over the past several years, Leigh has established herself as a leading actress and stunt performer in film and television. Her most notable credits include working as Demi Moore's stunt double in GI Jane and starring in the opening scenes of The Guardian with Kevin Costner, for which she was nominated for a Taurus World Stunt Award in 2007.

Leigh currently lives in Van Nuys, California.

Leigh joined her father in the Hall of Fame in 2007, making the Hennessys the only father and daughter in the Hall of Fame.

Mark B. Robson received his Ph.D. in English Literature from UL in 1984. He played and coached soccer for UL, leading the team to its first championship in 1976. He is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

Posted September 10, 2007

Leigh trained with the USL Trampoline Team in grade school, high school, college and some grad school. Her biggest accomplishments were several National and World titles.

During grad school at USL, she taught youth trampoline classes at Girard Park. After receiving her Masters on a teaching assistantship, she taught school in St. Martin Parish and worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for Congressman Jimmy Hayes.

Eventually, Leigh moved to Los Angeles and began a film career as a stunt performer and actress. In 2007, she was nominated for a Taurus at the World Stunt Awards in the Best Specialty Stunt category for her work on "The Guardian" with Kevin Cosnter. (*The Taurus is the stunt equivalent to an Oscar*)

In addition, the United States Association of Gymnastics (USAG) has inducted Leigh in the 2007 Hall of Fame. Since her father was inducted in 1992, they are the first father-daughter duo to be inducted the USAG Hall of Fame. They join a credible list of gymnasts including Mary-Lou Retton, Nadia Comanici, Bart Conner, Cathy Rigby, Kurt Thomas, Olga Korbut and many more.

If you are interested Leigh's film credits, please go to:

www.usastunts.com, www.imdb.com/name/nm0377299/, www.lacasting.com/leighhennessy or her professional website www.leighhennessy.com.

Thank you.


Inside: Bouncing into Stardom
Leigh Hennessy parlayed her trampoline ability into a movie career

On the first day of shooting, they tried to drown Leigh Hennessy.

Thank god Kevin Costner was around.

Hennessy, who has spent her Hollywood career doubling for Demi Moore and Tea Leoni on movies such as G.I. Jane and Bad Boys, plays a woman whose boat is sinking in the Bering Sea in Costner's new film, The Guardian, which opens Friday. As the movie begins, Hennessy, billed as "drowning wife" and her onscreen mate, cleverly billed as "drowning husband," are, well, drowning. Along comes Costner, an ace Coast Guard rescue specialist nearing the end of his heroic career, to save the day. He jumps in. Hennessy goes under. Costner does, too. Much swallowing of water and sputtering and being slammed around by 9-foot waves ensues.

The look of panic you might see on Hennessy's face won't be entirely fake.

"It was dangerous," says Hennessy, the former Lafayette trampoline champion turned stuntwoman who is beginning to make a real name for herself as an actress. "It was crazy to be honest. In the scenes where we're above water, there's water in your mouth constantly, and your head would go under and there'd be water in your eyes. We were doing that for 16 hours straight."

And then there were the underwater scenes where Hennessy and Costner had to start acting 26-feet down. "The barometric pressure at that depth is (high) and we had to float to the top and when you do that, you have to let air out of your lungs slowly to equalize the pressure or you get the bends."

It was challenging says Hennessy in a telephone interview from her home in Van Nuys, Calif., but worth it. This is finally a movie where she won't have to look for her name lumped in with 20 other stunt performers at the bottom of the credits. This time she'll see Leigh Hennessy next to "drowning wife." It won't be up top, near Costner's, but it will at least be there on a line of its own.

And heck, she's in a movie with KEVIN COSTNER, one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood firmament.

Costner, of course, has starred in such movies as The Bodyguard, Silverado, Robin Hood, Tin Cup, JFK and Dances With Wolves, for which, somehow, he won an Academy Award for direction. He can get a movie made -- even ones like The Postman and Waterworld -- on his name alone, and he can make little films like Field of Dreams into blockbusters. But it is said he can be controlling and bossy and demanding.

If that's true, Hennessy never saw it, even in the worst of times.

"He took very good care of me," says Hennessy. "Your first day on the set you don't know anybody and they take you to this 100-foot-by-100-foot tank of water and tell you to jump in and have a good time. When we'd swim out to our spots, he made sure he went with me. It would get cold in the water -- we were shooting in December, winter, in Shreveport and no matter how they tried to keep the water warm, it would get cold -- and Kevin would keep me warm."

Did she ever see his temper spike?

"In any stressful situation you're going to see that kind behavior in people, even Kevin," she says. "But in my experience he was always positive and supportive."

Hennessy grew up in Lafayette, the daughter of Benjamin Hennessy, a UL professor who taught physical education and coached the trampoline team. From an early age, she learned how to perform in front of people. In college, she starred on the UL team and went on to win both national and world championship trampoline titles.

There being no professional trampoline leagues in, well, anywhere, Leigh went to work first as a teacher, then as an aide to former U.S. Rep. Jimmy Hayes. While she was a good teacher and loved Washington D.C., there was something missing in her life.

"At some point I felt I was in a career I was supposed to do, not one I wanted to do," she says. "It wasn't natural for me, I never felt that was my calling."

She wanted something that would allow her to be more active, to get up off her backside and make use of those athletic genes. "I figured I'd move to California thinking, well heck, they climb rocks, ride bikes out there. It seemed like the thing to do. I knew three people out there."

But that didn't stop her. She sold everything she had, bought an old station wagon for $600 and drove to Los Angeles with barely more than the clothes on her back. She stayed with one of those three people for a few weeks, then the other, then the other, all the while trying to think of something she could make a living at. She found it at a nearby gym that had a trampoline.

"By coincidence some stunt people worked out at the same gym practicing their moves," she says. "I caught their attention. I was pretty good, a world champion, so they were impressed. One of them said, 'Hey, you'd be pretty good doing stunts,' and I said, 'Oh, really? What do I do?'"

Not long after that, she had an agent and a role in a Ralph Lauren commercial. Her first movie was doubling a Tea Leoni stunt in Bad Boys when the original stuntwoman refused to jump without padding from a moving car. Since then, she's doubled Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (and got a separate stunt double credit line), Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu.

She has lately begun to find more work for directors looking for "mature" women who need to be physically fit. Like the "drowning wife."

But don't ask her how mature she actually is, no.

"In this town, if you're 30 you have one foot in the grave," she says. "If you're 40, you're dead. Whenever I'm with other women and they start talking about birthdays, I don't even participate in the conversation. I'm whatever age they want me to be."

It took her a while to learn that lesson, however. Initially, she was upfront about her age. That's when she learned the 30-40 rule. "Since then, I've gotten younger every year."

And she's gotten more adept at her craft. Sure, she says, "getting hit by a car is getting hit by a car and there's not a lot of acting in that," but she has nevertheless managed to learn the trade from some of the best actors in the business. Like Viggo Mortensen, who slapped her around in a few G.I. Jane scenes.

"If you're doubling Demi Moore you have to become her character just like she does. I have to run and swim and do everything as Jordan O'Neil. So here I am with Viggo and I thought he was going to kill me. What you see on the screen is reacting and that's basically what acting is. I thought to myself, 'How lucky am I to be working with Viggo Mortensen?'"

Now she's working with Kevin Costner and even if it is a mature role, that's fine with her.

"When I turn 50, I'm going to tell the whole world because that puts you in a whole new category, a select group of women over 50 who can act and who are physically fit."

And who, not coincidentally, get their own mention in the closing credits.

Gene Williams is Managing Editor of The Times. To comment on this story, e-mail him at gene.williams@timesofacadiana.com

Originally posted September 28, 2006

- - - - - - - - - -

Leigh Hennessy Featured in Upcoming Movie

September 16, 2006 -

Former Lafayette resident and UL Lafayette graduate Leigh Hennessy will soon be seen in a prominent role in the new Kevin Costner action/adventure movie �The Guardian," which opens nationwide on September 29.

Leigh, an accomplished Hollywood actress and stuntwoman, appears as the drowning woman in the movie's dramatic opening scenes.

�The Guardian" was shot in Shreveport in February and March 2006. �It was very exciting to work on a major movie in Louisiana," said Leigh, whose parents still live in the Lafayette area. �Fortunately, I was able to return to Lafayette on my breaks � including a trip over Mardi Gras."

The movie stars Kevin Costner as legendary rescue swimmer Ben Randall. Costner is best known for his movies �Bull Durham," �Field of Dreams," and �Dances With Wolves." The opening scene of the movie features Costner saving Leigh's character after her boat capsizes in a howling storm in the Bering Sea.

The production company built a massive wave pool in Shreveport to simulate the stormy seas for Leigh's scenes. It produced nine-foot waves, and wind and rain machines created storm effects.

�I have worked on a lot of movies and done a lot of dangerous film work," said Leigh, �but this was actually one of the most challenging things I've ever done. In most of my work, such as falling off buildings and bridges, my action is over in seconds. This one, however, demanded hours of physical beatings each day. It was a real test of my endurance!"

Although Leigh has been featured in dozens of movies in a career dating back to 1995, �The Guardian" is her biggest and most important acting role. �Working with an actor of Kevin Costner's caliber was such a great experience," she said. �He is the epitome of a dedicated actor, and he was so encouraging to me."

�The Guardian" was directed by Andrew Davis, who also directed �The Fugitive," �Collateral Damage," and �A Perfect Murder." The movie is rated PG-13 and is released by Walt Disney Studios-Touchstone Pictures. In addition to Leigh and Costner, other featured actors include Ashton Kutcher and Sela Ward.

Leigh has also appeared in such movies as �G.I. Jane" as Demi Moore's stunt double, �Charlie's Angels" as Lucy Liu's high-fall stunt double, as well as �Planet of the Apes," �Teaching Mrs. Tingle," and �Mighty Joe Young." She has also been cast in many television programs, including �CSI" in which she played Sylvia Mullens in a recent episode entitled �Daddy's Little Girl."

Leigh attended Lafayette High School and received a B.A. and an M.A. in communications from UL Lafayette. She was a world champion trampolinist while at UL Lafayette and is listed in �Guinness World Records" for winning the most U.S. women's national championships. Prior to her movie career, Leigh worked for Congressman Jimmy Hayes in Washington, D.C.

Leigh's father, Jeff Hennessy, was the UL Lafayette and United States national trampoline team coach as well as an associate professor of physical education at UL Lafayette. Her mother, Ruth Hennessy, served on the Lafayette school board.

For more information about Leigh, visit www.LeighHennessy.com.

- - - - - - - - -

Lafayette native stars in upcoming Kevin Costner movie
Herman Fuselier

In the opening scene of the upcoming movie, The Guardian, Kevin Costner is legendary Coast Guard rescuer Ben Randall, fighting to save a drowning woman. The woman's boat has capsized in a howling storm in the Bering Sea.

The delirious woman is uncontrollable as she clings to life with all her might. But suddenly, the action stops. She looks at the camera and yells, "Geaux Cajuns!"

Not really, but this drowning woman could have. She's USL (now UL) and Lafayette High graduate Leigh Hennessy. Hennessy is an accomplished actress and stuntwoman who's worked in dozens of films, TV programs and commercials.
But The Guardian presents the most recognizable role of her career. The drowning woman scene is not quite the glamorous, show-stopping entrance she was expecting.

"I'm drenching wet, with no make-up on and screaming and yelling," said Hennessy. "I'm very hysterical, which is not the way I normally am.

"Since most of the work I do is stunt work, I double for other actors. But in this case, I'm playing myself, so I'm recognizable."

Stunts are business as usual for Hennessy, who has worked in Spiderman II, Planet of the Apes, Teaching Mrs. Tingle and Mighty Joe Young. She was Demi Moore's stunt double in G.I. Jane and stood in for Tea Leoni in Bad Boys.

She took a 90-foot fall off a roof for Lucy Lui in Charlie's Angels. She also played Sylvia Mullens in a recent episode of CSI titled Daddy's Little Girl.

But Hennessy said the Guardian stunt was the most physically demanding of her career. Usually, her falls and fights in movie scenes are over in seconds.

But the drowning scene required Hennessy to spend 12 hours in a massive pool, which was built in Shreveport after Hurricane Katrina derailed filming in New Orleans. The pool produced 9-foot waves and was surrounded by wind and rain machines to simulate ocean storm conditions.

Hennessy limited her diet to motion sickness medicine and crackers to ward off seasickness.

"I didn't get sick, which I was really happy about," said Hennessy. "But just imagine swimming in 9-foot waves for 12 hours. We came out every now and then to the bench, which was actually some scaffolding we could stand on, on the side of the tank. So it wasn't all 12 hours in the water, but it was brutal.

"I truly felt it was a huge accomplishment that day. One of the reasons I got the job was they were confident I could do it. I was very happy that I was able to do it."

Originally published September 4, 2006

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