“I grew up in a Christian home, but I really became a believer after losing my arm.”
Kiana Clay (25) is a motocross, surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding athlete. When she was 12, she suffered a traumatic brachial plexus injury on a motocross practice run that left her right arm paralyzed. We caught up with her to discuss her injury and the faith that helped her get back on her bike and train for the 2022 Paralympics in snowboarding.
What are your athletic outlets and the ways that you uniquely live out your calling from God?
My athletic outlets are competing in motocross, surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding. I have always had a need for speed since I was little and always had a huge passion for action sports.
Back when I was in grade school, my friends would be inside playing video games or playing with their Barbies while I was outside trying to scare my mom doing some crazy action sport going as fast as possible. When I was 12 years old, I was racing motocross in Texas and suffered a traumatic injury called a brachial plexus. In simple terms, my right dominant arm became paralyzed from getting landed on by another competitor and breaking my neck. My nerves got ripped out of my spinal cord. I lost total function and feeling instantly.
A few short months later after getting news that my bicep muscle was coming back, my dad and I got hit by a drunk driver and lost everything that I had gained back. The doctors told me that I would never have any chance of getting my arm back.
After years living disabled and sharing my story, I have seen the awesome opportunity that God gave me—that I can uniquely glorify him in many ways that others can’t because of my injury.
How did you develop your passion for being an athlete?
I have always had a passion for sports, and naturally I am very competitive. I love trying to be the best at everything I set out to do: the environment, the discipline, building good character and just always trying to be a better athlete every day. After my injury, I developed an “I’ll prove you wrong” attitude and never let my injury define me or the dreams I’ve had since I was a child.
What is a moment that stands out in your mind as a turning point, when you really felt like you were doing what you were meant to do?
I would have to say the first day that I got back on my bike. I swung my leg over, nervous, anxious, excited … But when I started going, I felt so happy and a peace in my soul that made me think, This is where you belong, this is what you were created for.
Its crazy to sit back and think that if that day had never happened, so many opportunities and my current lifestyle would be 1,000% different. I have the opportunity to be the first upper-limb female to represent the USA at the next Paralympics in 2022 and create a category and pave a future for other upper-limb females in the sport of snowboarding. So many incredible things wouldn’t be happening if I had listened to doctors and never touched my bike again.
Where did you find the will to continue doing sports after your injuries?
I really didn’t like having multiple people in my life telling me what I can and can’t do and what I am and am not capable of. Everyone tried acting like God. Then in my first year of college I looked in the mirror one day and knew that my passions had a purpose and that I wasn’t happy. It couldn’t be for nothing.
I truly believe that God gave me that will and determination to get back into action sports. The industry is very dark spiritually, and it’s an almost untouched mission field. With my platform, a lot of people ask me where I find my hope and how I keep going. My answer is always the same: God. It’s really rad to be a disabled woman in a male-dominant industry spreading the gospel. That’s a God thing.
How has your personal faith shaped the way that you do what you do?
My faith has definitely shaped my career as an athlete. When you get handed opportunities and contracts that many people dream of, it’s so easy to get caught up in worldly things and the temporary fulfillment that it can offer you at that level. It’s so easy to just get caught up in yourself as if I got here on my own and I created my own story.
My faith helps me keep things in perspective, to always look at the bigger picture. I am a servant of a sovereign God who put me in this position for a reason. The glory is his, not mine, even if I podium at the Paralympics. In the world, it’s one of the biggest achievements for a human. But if it’s not for his glory and I am not doing my job with the story he gave me, then I failed, no matter what. My faith keeps me going and reminds me of God’s promises.
Do you have a life Bible verse or another passage of Scripture that has encouraged you along your journey?
I actually have two: Philippians 4:13 and 2 Timothy 4:7 (which I have on my bike). Philippians 4:13 was a verse that I kept close to my heart when I had to learn how to be disabled, and during that hard season of Why, why, why? in the beginning.
I grew up in a Christian home, but I really became a believer after losing my arm. I had to completely rely on God and knew that only he could give me strength mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sometimes physically. That verse really encouraged me, not only that God will give me strength, but if he’s giving me strength, it’s for a reason, a purpose. I had to believe that something good was going to come out of losing my arm, the sport that I loved and the plans that I had. As a woman I was thinking, How can I ever make a good mother? A good wife? How will I do my hair and makeup? etc.
Second Timothy 4:7 is the verse that stuck after I got back to riding. I had to fight to get back on my bike. I had to keep faith in every step because I didn’t know what a life being disabled looked like or what God’s plan was for me. It was scary, and still is sometimes.
Finally, every time I race, I finish it no matter what. That’s how I look at life: a really good, hard, long moto. What ever God has planned for me, I intend to finish it to the absolute best of my ability and cross the finish line for his glory.
How do you see your passion interacting with your sense of calling or mission from God?
As I mentioned before, the industry of action sports is pretty dark spiritually. I know God put me in this position for a reason because I’m not afraid to stand up for my faith and for the God I know and love so dearly. He has helped me get through my disability on a daily basis, and has used the platform of my paralyzed arm for some awesome things.
So many people ask me how I deal with 24/7 neuropathy pain, how I got back on the bike after seven years with no one supporting the idea but myself, and where I find my strength and hope to live life to the absolute fullest. I have had the honor to see God work in some extraordinary ways, and I am blessed and grateful to be a part of this growing kingdom.
What’s one thing you would like say to leaders in the church who are trying to cultivate and encourage younger leaders?
My favorite quote is by Francis Chan: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure … But of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Failure isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather to embrace. Sometimes failure, or doors shutting in life (losing a limb for example) is God’s way of redirecting you to what you need and what his will is. That’s one of the ways that he can show that he’s real. That’s how your faith truly grows.
When your plan fails, God redirects you to his, which is far more important than ours will ever be. Don’t conform to this world! (Rom. 12:2). If you’re moving toward the Lord and working to grow the kingdom, Satan will use absolutely anything to distract you: money, materialism, status or achievements. Always keep the bigger picture in mind and your faith strong. It will be hard. It will be tempting. It will be a lot of work. However, following God and his will is what matters.
Always keep your eyes set on the Lord no matter what this world tempts you with, and always believe that God is good.
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