By Alyssa Shapiro
27-year-old Kanya Sesser is a skater, surfer, activist, motivational speaker, and model. Born without legs in Thailand, Sesser was found on the steps of a Buddhist temple at just three weeks old, wrapped in a pink blanket. She was brought to a local hospital where she lived until entering foster care in Bangkok, then was adopted at five and brought to the United States. Now, you’ll rarely find her using a wheelchair to get around—instead she uses her skateboard. Sesser speaks professionally on her experience, surfs, skates, and models, and generally shatters expectations. How? “I’m Kanya and I just do it,” she says.
Watch her in Beautiful People below.
How did you get into sports like skating and skiing? What were your first experiences like?
When I was growing up, my friends in my neighborhood and I were all troublemakers. One of my girlfriends, Leah, had a skateboard from her brother and I wanted to try it. So, I hop on the skateboard. My first try was downhill and I almost got hit by a car. I had to fail and jump off onto the grass. I was like, “Wow, that was so freaking amazing.” I’ve loved skateboarding ever since, and I just adapt to it naturally. I love the adrenaline rush.
Do you get the same adrenaline rush when you ride now?
I still feel the same adrenaline rush, but I’m more cautious and careful, especially in LA. I don’t want to get hit. I still have that feeling, but I’m wiser than I was before. Being on a skateboard, I just feel like myself. I feel free. I don’t use my chair as much. I could do anything with a board.
What does it mean to you to shatter expectations?
I’m Kanya and I just do it. I don’t really care what everybody thinks; I just have my own way of thinking. Being born with no legs is no different, but you just do things differently. I’m sure that people who do have legs have things they can’t do. I don’t really think anything of it. I’m myself, in my own element, and in my space. I go with the flow of what I can adapt to.
I was born without legs, so I go through life how anybody else does, but I also have already adapted to what to do because this is what I know. People’s lives with different disabilities are all different. We’re not all the same because we’re in a wheelchair. No, I don’t know that person just because I’m in a wheelchair.
We’re just people. It’s good to ask questions and be open, instead of assuming. Talk to us about who we are. I think the thing we have problems with is when parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about differences in abilities. And that’s why we’re here to change that by going to different teachings and different schools to activate kids about disabilities, so they can know. At the same time, I feel like kids are closed out on that because their parents don’t know what to say or do, or they’re not really aware of it as much.
What would be your best piece of advice for teaching people how to even ask the right questions?
Be open and approachable, as much as you can. It’s funny to me that people can be so closed-minded, but at the same time, they’re different people—they don’t know any better. So I don’t judge them. That’s why it’s good to talk; that’s why I do what I do. I’m a motivational speaker and I educate people about these things and about my life story.
Everyone’s disability is different and it’s good to just come to me and ask questions instead of having this assumption in your head, thinking differently. When you ask questions, you’re educating yourself.
Can you talk about what normal means and what visibility means?
What is normal? I’m not normal. No one’s normal. We’re all unique, you know, and at the end of the day, we’re all one people. And it’s so beautiful.
When you were growing up, did you have role models or visible people in the world that you felt were representative of you?
I really looked up to Bethany Hamilton, even though she's different. She survived a shark attack. She’s a one arm surfer, and I thought she was really cool. I also really liked Nick Vujicic. He’s a motivational speaker and pastor who was born without arms and legs. He’s an amazing example of a person who I feel like I see myself in. I met him when I was 15 years old and he was doing motivational speaking up in Portland, Oregon. He almost committed suicide because he felt like he wasn’t really good enough, and it was really amazing how he picked himself back up after that. It’s inspiring to see somebody who’s also different, and has this really big spiritual vibration to him.
How did you feel when you booked your first modeling gig?
When I booked my first modeling gig in high school, I felt like I was changing beauty standards in a way. But it’s not just about changing beauty standards. I’m in my own element, in my own skin—and that’s how I live my everyday life. I felt really happy that I get to show people you can be beautiful in your own skin.
Can you talk about your role as a motivational speaker?
What I do is show and open up the world, open up the light of people, let them seek through open minds, and open up people’s perspectives. Anything can happen; anything is possible. You can conquer this world like anyone else. Life doesn’t need to be perfect because we’re not perfect. I don’t always need to be the hero. You don’t always need to be the hero. Just be yourself.
Are there any mantras or rituals that help you feel more centered?
The things that keep me grounded are spiritual rituals—sage, palo santo, tarot reading, aura cleansing, and energy healing.
What does it mean to be a beautiful person?
If you’re positive and have confidence in yourself, you’re going to attract confidence and positivity. Being beautiful is how you show people who you are as a person, rather than your looks or physical appearances. Being beautiful is about being your inner self.
Photographed and directed by Alex Kenealy