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This mom is all action

Terri Cadiente has survived the sinking of the Titanic, but now wants to save the women and girls of

Posted: May 9, 2009 7:58 p.m.
Updated: May 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Terri Cadiente gets behind the wheel at "Speed School X - The Ultimate Driving Adventure" in Irwindale for a 20-lap adventure. Of all the stunts Cadiente performs, she said she enjoys driving the best.

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She's jumped off buildings, crashed cars and survived the Titanic. And yes, she's a mother, too. Canyon Country stuntwoman and life coach Terri Cadiente has thrived on the physical challenges she faced on television and film sets, often doubling for actresses like Pamela Anderson and Ashley Judd.

Today, it's the off-screen hurdles of everyday people that compel Cadiente. She has authored a book, "Live Courageously," based on lessons learned from her rough and tumble upbringing, and will launch a motivational speaking tour in May.

The petite Cadiente, a 2008 Santa Clarita Zonta "Woman of the Year" nominee, is also taking on some serious social issues with her non-profit Ragdoll Restoration Foundation, which reaches out to children with parents in prison and the victims of human trafficking.

"I'm a passionate champion of honor, dignity and freedom for every individual. I'm wired for this, to be a voice for the faceless and voiceless," Cadiente said. "Go ahead and throw me under the bus. I'm a stuntwoman. I'll come out alive."

A shaky start
Cadiente wasn't always so confident and strong. Born Terri Rippenkroger, she was the oldest child in an alcoholic family. The young Cadiente dreamed of greatness during her childhood in Tampa Bay, Fla., but found her passions squelched in an atmosphere of neglect and abuse.

"I had no structure, no skills, no way to express myself or deal with the pain," Cadiente said.

After high school, Cadiente turned to drugs and alcohol.

"The first time I tried drugs, I got away from my feelings. It didn't hurt anymore to be alive," she said. "Then it became such a part of my life that it was no longer a choice, it was a necessity, a physical demand."

She held down a series of odd jobs and rough boyfriends for seven years, until a Saturday night in May, 1988, when her choices caught up with her. After a party, Cadiente and her boyfriend where driving home when an argument ensued. Cadiente reached to turn the radio dial. Her boyfriend had other plans.

He grabbed Cadiente by the hair, slammed her head into the dashboard, and threw her out the passenger door from the moving car. She landed in a cold, wet gutter. Stunned and bloodied, it took Cadiente a few moments to compose herself.

"I had hit rock bottom. I had been giving up because I didn't know I had a choice. I realized this was my life and it was up to me to choose a better way," Cadiente said.

Riding the wave
Shortly after hitting rock bottom, Cadiente went to Havasu with a new group of friends. She had taken a personal vow of sobriety, eschewing drugs and alcohol in search of a different way of life. She had also taken in Tiffany, her niece, after her sister Linda went to prison.

As she stood on the water's edge, she noticed people jet skiing. An epiphany came.

"I thought, ‘I could do that.' I no longer wanted to be on the sidelines, I wanted to be in the race of life," Cadiente said.

She started riding jet skis with friends, practicing constantly. A natural at the sport, Cadiente was snapped up for sponsorship by Thunder Jet within her first year. She helped the company with design and traveled round the world as a spokesperson, setting records along the way. Kawasaki took notice and invited Cadiente to join their jet ski team.

On July 24, 1994, in Atlanta, Ga., Cadiente took to the water in the women's slalom and set the world record at 23.04 seconds, which still stands.

When a call for professional jet skiers from "Waterworld" came, Cadiente was quick to accept, traveling to Hawaii with the Kawasaki team. The experience whet Cadiente's appetite for stunt work. Her next assignment was doubling for Linda Hamilton on "Dante's Peak." The two remain friends to this day.

"It's funny how people perceive actors. Really, they're just like us. They just have very public jobs," Cadiente said.

Her ship comes in
In 1997, Cadiente traveled to Rosarito Beach, Mexico to start work on James Cameron's epic historical romance "Titanic," a six-month gig that had challenged her newfound stunting skills.

"The ship was built to scale, the grandeur was unbelievable. The hydraulics would make the same sound as iron clanking, it was eerie. It really got my imagination going on what the passengers must have gone through," Cadiente said. "I died all the time in the movie, only in different clothes."

Portraying passengers from first class all the way down to steerage, Cadiente was one of 120 stunt people working on the movie. While reenacting the dramatic finale where the ship splits in half before plummeting into the icy waters, the hydraulics tilted the ship from six to 90 degrees.

Bodies started flying into a specially-built catch.

"It was fun at first, until bones started breaking. Then the safety snapped and we were stuck for two hours," Cadiente recalled. "It was intense."

Tired from the long shoot, Cadiente reluctantly agreed to accompany fellow stunt workers to a happy hour at El Torito on Valentine's Day, 1998. It was there she met Jeff Cadiente, a second generation stuntman who made a name for himself in Hollywood hits such as "The Crow" and "Con Air." The duo started dating immediately thereafter and married less than a year later on New Year's Day.
"I wasn't looking. It just happened," Cadiente said.

The Cadientes moved to the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando Valley in 2005 with daughters Jasmyn and Jolie, as well as Cadiente's niece Tiffany.

Stunt roles continued to pour in, as Cadiente doubled for stars such as Pamela Anderson in "VIP," Lindsay Lohan in "Herbie Fully Loaded," and Jessica Simpson in "Major Movie Star."

Decked out in hair extensions, a white Dolce & Gabbana dress and Jimmy Choo shoes for a car stunt on the latter, the glamour ended for Cadiente once the cameras stopped rolling.

"When I got out of the car, the crew was more concerned about the dress than they were about me, checking to make sure I didn't get it dirty rather than if I was injured," Cadiente said. "They only had one dress, so they covered me in towels and robes while I ate, too. I looked like Cousin It."

She's not in it for the glitz, anyway.

"I love car work. To be able to control a machine, to turn on a dime while appearing to be very out of control, yet knowing I can stop, is very exciting," she said.

Restoring rag dolls
It's the things out of Cadiente's control that propel her into even more dangerous territory than stunt work. Cadiente was sent to Taipei, Taiwan in 2008 as an ambassador for Soroptomist International of Santa Clarita Valley to learn more about human trafficking, specifically the sale of women and girls into sexual slavery. Though she was prepared for a shock, what Cadiente found sickened her.

"Children as young as 6 are being purchased for the same price as a cup of coffee in the States. The younger the girl, the higher the demand," Cadiente said. "Somehow, while I was there, I could get my mind around it, but when I got back home, I staggered to my knees. I didn't know how, why, or when this became OK. I had to find ways to confront this epidemic."

She started by writing, producing, and directing a seven-minute documentary, "Stuck in Traffic," which depicts the trafficking process in grim detail. "Stuck in Traffic" is narrated by Larry Dunn of Earth, Wind, and Fire, and features a public service announcement from Assemblyman Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita. Smyth's AB 1278, designed to crack down on human trafficking in California, was recently signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Stuck in Traffic," is being considered for the Sundance Film Festival and Cadiente is looking for funding to get the short expanded into a full-length feature. Cadiente is also working to raise funds for increased safe-house bedding in Los Angeles for trafficking victims through her non-profit Ragdoll Restoration Foundation - currently there are only six beds in the county for this purpose.

The Ragdoll Restoration Foundation was initially established to help girls with parents in prison, another social problem Cadiente is passionate about. She founded the organization with her niece, Tiffany Ray-Michaels, who is now a junior in college.

"Being Tiffany's aunt really created an understanding of both sides of the issue," Cadiente said. "I did the best I could in raising her. I just tried to keep it real. She is an amazing young woman."

The next chapter
Their "Raising the Bar" program provides tools and skill sets in building dignity, self-worth, self-respect, communication, discipline, healthy habits, poise, posture and self-defense, themes reflected in Cadiente's latest project, "Living Courageously: Choose to be the Real You" published by Destiny Image Books in 2008.

The book is an amalgamation of journal entries and notes Cadiente has taken over the years, presented in an easy-to-read format complete with reader exercises and stunt references presented as inspirational metaphors. Cadiente also shares her hard-fought lessons at speaking engagements throughout the country and carries the message to clients as a life-coach.

"'I'm not the only person who grew up with misinformation. Life was a deck of cards that no one taught me how to play," she said. "'Living Courageously' speaks to the human will. When we choose to participate with the gifts inside of us, we find that instead of things happening to us, we make things happen."

Cadiente will sign "Living Courageously" at Barnes & Noble Valencia from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 16. For more information on Terri Cadiente, visit www.terricadiente.com or www.ragdollrestoration.com.

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