02/17/2013 09:22 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

'Freakshow' Star Asia Ray Is Youngest Female Sword Swallower In The World

Asia Ray isn't old enough to drink legally, but she can already swallow something more lethal: swords.

Just 20 years old, Ray is not only an accomplished fire eater, she's also the youngest professional female sword swallower in the world -- an amazing feat, considering there are only 200 sword swallowers in the world, according to the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI).

Some parents might gulp if their kids wanted to swallow swords for a living, but Ray has had nothing but support from her parents, Todd and Danielle Ray. With good reason: They run the Venice Beach Freakshow in Los Angeles, which regularly features swords swallowers, fire eaters and the world's largest collection of two-headed animals.

The family business is now the subject of Freakshow, a reality show airing Thursdays on AMC, and Asia's attempts to sharpen her sword swallowing skills are an important subplot.

In one episode, Asia learns how to swallow a coat hanger from close family friend, Morgue, who tells her to stop when she feels it touch a certain muscle. "It's basically your a**hole," he explained.

Before Ray jumped into sword swallowing hook, line and sinker, she actually considered becoming a teacher and was accepted into the prestigious Berklee School of Music, but decided the sound of a slicked-down metal sword going down her esophagus was more music to her ears.

Asia Ray first became a sideshow attraction when she was 13 and her Dad, Todd Ray, was trying to attract patrons to the Freakshow.

"I got a boa constrictor and had her hold it outside and people wanted pictures," he proudly told HuffPost. "Then she laid on a bed of nails."

Besides sword swallowing, she also performs as a contortionist and gets electrocuted.

"To be a woman that can dress and behave with class, but also do extremely badass, crazy stunts –- that’s what I’m striving toward. I love to surprise people: 'Oh she’s so cute, but she can eat fire and get electrocuted!'"

Currently, she's most proud of her fire eating.

"There's a lot of breath control and learning to being comfortable with the flames," she told HuffPost. "You mostly just have to have the guts."

Ray's abilities are incredible, but not without longterm risks, according to George "The Gentle Giant" McArthur, a 7-foot, 3-inch sword swallower who said that training himself to swallow long objects has had major physical effects on his body.

"Being a sword swallower means being aware of the passageways in a way the average person is not," McArthur told HuffPost last year. "Once you learn the skill, you have to effect the various sphincter muscles down the throat and be aware so something doesn't go down the wrong passageway."

If his situation is any indication, Asia Ray could eventually find her skill to be a real pain in the neck.

"I am more prone to neck pain as well," McArthur said. "I have to position the neck so a sword can go straight down. But that means my neck is now in a different position than it was six years ago."

Still, Ray seems willing to take the risks.

"I've fallen in love with performing," she said. "It inspires me. I can't not do it. I keep pushing myself to go further."




AMC Freakshow