Before Caitlin Dechelle made a name for herself in Hollywood, she was crushing the competition at martial arts tournaments across the country, even defeating black belts when she was ranked two belts lower. It was one of those tournaments where she caught the eye of martial arts legend Jackie Chan.
Caitlin would soon find herself working alongside the master in the film Chinese Zodiac, which propelled her into a stunt career that has seen her double Ronda Rousey in Furious 7 , help Gal Gadot bring DC Comics’ icon Wonder Woman to life, and bring intensity to Taylor Swift’s army in her Bad Blood music video.
And in addition to all of that, she’s also joined the cast of Rough Around The Edges, Openfit’s upcoming intense, results-driven training program led by a team of professional stuntwomen.
Here’s how Caitlin made a splash as a world-class martial artist and action movie staple, and a look at what she’s like off screen.
Openfit: What got you started in martial arts in the first place?
Caitlin Dechelle: I started with dance and tap at age four. Then, when I was around six years old, my mom and dad recommended I start karate. If nothing else, maybe one day I could use it for self-defense. So they stuck me in there and I gravitated towards it.
What was it that grabbed you?
At first, it was just fun. But now that I look back, even as a kid, I was a very competitive person. I get that from my Dad. There was always something new to achieve and that kept me going, like that next belt or another tournament.
Did you have to change your approach to martial arts once you started seriously competing?
No, there was no crazy shift or anything like that, I just started doing local tournaments in Miami, Florida. We have a really strong local circuit down there. I then started competing for NASKA, the North American Sport Karate Association. I started at age eight and that gave me a little taste of it, and soon I was doing monthly tournaments around the U.S.
And it was during one of these tournaments that Jackie Chan saw you. Had you considered a stunt career before that?
Yeah. I was living in Orlando, Florida going to college. I was a bio major, but I kind of wanted to go out and get into the film industry in LA. I was like, “You know what, my body’s only going to let me do it now, so let me go and see where things take me.”
So I moved out to LA and kept competing, and then not long after, Jackie found me on a tournament on ESPN in Orlando. Then, I got an email about doing a movie with him and ended up going to China about six months later and starring in his film Chinese Zodiac.
So it was kind of a mixture of both. It was always something that I was interested in because I wanted to still be able to do martial arts but couldn’t compete my whole life. But, yeah…Jackie finding me? That helped a little bit.
A lot of female stuntwomen complain that the characters they double for often don’t wear much…. and it makes hiding padding impossible.
Yes! When I doubled Ronda Rousey in Furious 7 we were in ball gowns and heels – not conducive to stunts at all. And having to go over a rail with no padding…it was a little iffy.
And then in Wonder Woman when I was doubling Gal Gadot, the outfit was one piece and I had nothing on my arms – I couldn’t wear elbow pads or anything. Most of the time, women don’t have the luxury of wearing all the pads under the clothing because the clothing doesn’t exist.
Take us through a typical exercise routine while you’re working.
The best example is from Wonder Woman. We had very rigorous days. I’d come in a half and hour before call time and do cardio off the clock. Then we would start rehearsal right at 8am and would go do whatever we were doing that day – whether it was a big choreography or a fight. We’d do that until about noon, and then we would have lunch for about a half an hour.
Lunch always consisted of something healthy, of course, like salads with a healthy protein. And then after lunch we’d do strength conditioning workouts with a trainer for an hour or hour and half until around 3pm.
Then, we’d rehearse for a few more hours until 6pm and jump back into what we were doing – choreography or repetition of a wire move or whatever the case may be.
They were long days and it was constant every day for about 10 months while we were filming. If we filmed in the morning, then we worked out in the afternoon, and vice versa. It was a lot, you know? At least two workouts a day in an actual gym setting, as well as a rehearsal that also counts as exercise.
When you did cardio – was there anything in particular that you did? Or did you change it up?
When I was out there, we pretty much did a bike, a ski machine, or a rower. We’d also do boxing. But when I’m home, most of the time I’m on a treadmill or stair machine – those are my two favorites.
What about weights – do you have a set routine?
You know, I don’t. I like to switch it up. I get bored. I think I’ve just been in a gym for so long and I’ve done so many different workouts that sometimes I walk in and I’ll literally just jump back into a Wonder Woman workout that we did back then.
Or if I really just have a lot on my mind and I’m thinking about another job or work and things, I’ll just hop on a treadmill and run for an hour. It kind of just depends. I’ll do a few days of just weights and a few days of cardio. Every day is different.
Do you balance that with anything like yoga or Pilates?
I stretch all the time because of all the martial arts; it’s good to keep your hips open and things like that. If I do anything else it’s usually yoga, and sometimes hot yoga, which I like because it really burns and sweats everything out. I space it out and I keep it exciting. I don’t have a set schedule but I do something active every day, sometimes twice a day.
You recently went vegan. What was behind the change, and was it tough to do?
My mom actually went vegan last July. She changed over for a few different reasons and kept mentioning to my boyfriend and I – “Hey! Try this! Try that! Tastes the same, and is healthier! Give it a shot!” We always said “No no no…”
Finally, we were going grocery shopping one day and we said, “Hey, let’s just try it for a week. See how we feel, see how our bodies react…we can always go back.” So, yeah, we bought everything vegan and have never looked back.
What’s the biggest challenge on a vegan diet?
Nothing, really. I know a lot of people worry that they can’t get enough protein. But there are so many ways — between nuts and butters and even some vegetables — it hasn’t been hard at all. I’ve actually slimmed down, lost weight, and I just feel healthier. I had stomach issues at one point, and it has pretty much eliminated that, so I feel great. I feel strong. In my workouts I’m able to maintain my muscle and ability to recover. I’ve had no issues at all.
What do you do on a cheat day?
Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream is one of my favorites. As a vegan, I can also still eat Oreos, which I have since I was a kid. And dark chocolate. That’s a home run right there.
Do you have go-to exercise music?
I pretty much listen to everything, but I’m not a huge rock person. Lately, since the DJ scene has become a bit bigger – the whole EDM, dub step-type festival music — that’s always good. Bands like Chainsmokers, Marshmello, Ariana Grande — all the top artists that are out there. I try to keep up with the kids, you know?
It must be hard to find motivation some days — where do you draw inspiration from?
I’ve always said you’ve got to keep pushing and never give up. My dad always used to tell me there’s always somebody training to beat you or to be better than you, so you have to be training to be the best.
Obviously there are those days were you just don’t make it, but for the most part, that’s what I try to keep in mind. You have to keep getting better because everyone else out there is getting better as well. I just always say “never give up.”