When Kiana Clay rides a chairlift, she at all times sits on the left facet of the seat so she will be able to use her one functioning arm to push off on the high. As soon as there, she steps onto her snowboard, factors down the mountain and picks up velocity.
Plenty of it.
She has racked up a number of high finishes as she goals to compete within the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing and lately turned the primary para snowboarder to be signed by the Burton Staff, one of many best-known in snowboarding and whose members have included Olympians like Kelly Clark, Chloe Kim and Shaun White.
“What struck me with Kiana instantly is that she noticed how her work may profit others,” mentioned Donna Carpenter, proprietor of the Burton snowboarding firm, which sponsors the staff. “She’s received that single-minded dedication, the attention of the tiger which you could acknowledge in a superb athlete.’’
Carpenter first realized of Clay when she spoke at a nationwide sportswomen convention a couple of years in the past and was captivated.
“Her speech was so highly effective popping out of this little package deal,” Carpenter mentioned. “When she talked about refinding her goal with snowboarding and the sense of freedom it introduced her, I used to be like, we now have to attach.”
Clay being within the subsequent Paralympics is way from a certainty however not due to her efficiency. Her class, feminine snowboarders with higher limb disabilities, will not be scheduled to seem within the Paralympics till the 2026 Video games in northern Italy, due to an inadequate pool of opponents. However Clay, 26, is main a petition so as to add the division to the 2022 Beijing Video games.
“We actually want that class within the subsequent Video games,” she mentioned. “If there’s just a little lady with out an higher limb who thinks she’s lower than, or not able to doing one thing, it’s about encouraging the following era, making that future risk.”
Contests run by World Para Snowboarding, the worldwide governing physique for the game, embody this class for girls, and Clay is one in every of only a handful of American feminine athletes competing within the class on the worldwide degree. Quite a few different nations, together with China, have a number of feminine snowboarders within the higher limb class.
“It’s the most important class on the boys’s facet of the game and it’s rising on the ladies’s facet,” mentioned Daniel Gale, government director of Adaptive Motion Sports activities, a Colorado-based group that steers folks with disabilities to motion sports activities and helped get snowboarding into the 2014 Paralympics in Russia. “Had it not been for Covid interrupting our season final 12 months, we’d have had the chance for these ladies to point out that the numbers are there.”
At finish of 2020, Clay ranked ninth on the planet in her class and was the highest American, though she is new to the game and solely has a handful of competitions below her belt. She narrowly missed the rostrum, putting fourth, in her most up-to-date World Cup occasion final 12 months.
She is coaching for a handful of home snowboarding competitions, bowing out of worldwide occasions this season due to considerations about touring in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. She trains on the fitness center six days per week, snowboards with Adaptive Motion Sports activities not less than three days per week and often meets with a sports activities psychologist and nutritionist. Due to signing on with Burton, she was capable of give up two of the three jobs she had, working now at a neighborhood sandwich store.
Clay has adopted a circuitous path to the game.
Rising up in San Diego, she discovered velocity by no matter means doable — biking, skateboarding, in-line skating. She received her first bike at age 7 and was racing motocross as she neared her teenagers. It was an period when ladies’s motocross was at its peak, and she or he was racing across the nation, ending within the high three amongst women and boys in her class.
Then, at age 12, competing on a wet day in Texas, she crashed when her bike slid out over a soar. One other racer’s entrance wheel landed on her neck. Clay awoke on a stretcher to find she had no use of her proper, dominant arm.
She had suffered a neck damage involving the brachial plexus. Just a few weeks later, Clay and her father have been hit by a drunken driver and their truck flipped. Any hope to recuperate some use of her arm vanished, even after a 14-hour nerve graft process.
She realized to jot down along with her left hand, play video video games along with her toes and learn how to make a ponytail with the assistance of a doorknob. She spent all of junior excessive and highschool making an attempt each kind of sport and exercise — monitor, artwork, choir, cheerleading — straining to redefine herself and to examine a future aside from the one she had pictured as an expert motocross racer. Nothing made her coronary heart sing.
It wasn’t till school at Dallas Baptist College that Clay received again on a motorbike.
“I discovered myself consistently going again to the dust monitor,” she mentioned. “Certainly one of my mates mentioned, ‘Why don’t we rig up a pit bike which you could journey with one hand?’ That bike didn’t cease for eight or 9 hours. I went via three cans of gasoline. I nonetheless had that feeling on the monitor, this loopy sense of peace. I name it my throttle remedy. If I hadn’t gotten again on the bike, I wouldn’t have gotten into snowboarding.”
Phrase unfold in regards to the 5-foot-2, one-armed girl racing dust bikes.
Adaptive Motion Sports activities invited Clay to Colorado to attempt snowboarding. It was the primary time she had been on a board since she was a small little one.
“The day I met Kiana, having identified her background and seeing movies using her bike, I assumed she had the precise proper angle to be a aggressive snowboarder,” Gale, of Adaptive Motion Sports activities, mentioned. “As we’ve traveled down this street, she’s fallen an increasing number of in love with the game. She’s discovering her place within the snowboard tradition, discovering her footing as an athlete and studying loads about herself and what she’s able to.”
Clay has been working with Burton’s designers on bettering gear for these with bodily disabilities.
Utilizing her enter, designers have created customized boots that Clay can tighten and not using a drawstring and jackets with diagonal zippers that may be simply managed with one hand and that includes a single left sleeve, since Clay rides along with her proper arm strapped tightly to her physique below the jacket.
Except her arm is pinned down, it “would flap round like a flag,” Clay mentioned, hindering her stability whereas using and racing. The inactive arm presents different risks, too. After a latest dust bike crash during which she went over the handlebars, Clay seen her proper hand turning black and blue a pair days later. When she went to the physician, she found her wrist was damaged.
She is hoping to have the arm amputated under the elbow this 12 months.
“Getting that further weight off, I see plenty of advantages and big development potential as an athlete,” she mentioned.
Clay mentioned she hopes others, disabled or not, discover her effort within the sport inspiring.
“The mark I’d like to depart will not be just for disabled folks, however for each human to know that the one limitation they’ve is themselves,” she mentioned. “I wish to assist folks see past themselves, what their potential is and what they’re able to in the event that they’re keen to place within the work.”