She’s a skater, surfer, skier, snowboarder and professional athlete who takes sports to the limit. She’s a model and actress who you may have seen on shows like Hawaii Five-O, Code Black, The Walking Dead and Fear of the Walking Dead. She’s an international public speaker and a fierce advocate for women, people with disabilities and adopted children.
Her name is Kanya Sesser. And she was also was born without legs.
Although some people might think her story started tragically — she was abandoned on the steps of a Buddhist temple in Thailand before being adopted by an American family — Kanya is one of those extraordinary human beings who has refused to let any disability define or deter her.
Armed with her motto of “No Legs, No Limits,” Kanya is a shining example of living a life full of courage, confidence and gratitude. I had the chance to ask this multi-talented woman some questions about her inspiring life story, how she keeps it together in the midst of hardships, and what advice she has for all of us.
Hi Kanya! Thank you so much for taking time to chat with Homegirl Talk. When did you first realize that not having legs made you physically different from those around you?
I never saw myself any more different than everyone else around me. There will be things that are limited for everyone, that’s just life. No one is going to be perfect. I just have my own way of doing the similar things they were doing, just with my arms and core more.
You were adopted at age five and moved to the United States. What kind of family did you have and how did your upbringing influence who you are?
My family is wonderful. My mother Jane Sesser, my father David Sesser, and my two older brothers Todd and Scott are a wonderful family — I can’t ask any better than them.
My mother Jane has always been there for me, has supported me through tough times and she even had to take classes on how to raise a child with a disability when she first got me. The nurses and my adopted family and foster family were so loving that all I knew was love. I was surrounded by good, positive people in my life who influenced me to be a good person.
Tell us about the advocacy you do for adoption and some of the charities you believe in.
I’m excited that hopefully I’ll be going back to Thailand to do an event to help other kids in foster homes and kids in foster homes with a disability. I believe in charities that impact everyone’s needs and issues. The most important thing that I want to focus on is people with a disability and young adults in foster homes.
You’re an avid surfer, skater and skier. Basically, you do everything that someone with legs can do. Did you ever feel discouraged to try such physically challenging things?
Never. In life there will be challenges and we need to have strength to go through all kinds of challenges. Encouraging others — and yourself — to try is what makes life fun and exciting.
Some people say words like “handicapped” or “disabled” should be replaced with “differently abled.” Others say doing that only shuts down open discussion about people with disabilities. What are your thoughts?
If people can look at it in a broader aspect it would make more sense. I am disabled through society’s eyes. Yes. But I am not afraid or limit myself because of being disabled.There are things that I will not be capable of doing, but that’s also true for the majority of people as well. I don’t see myself as being disabled, but I am differently abled. It’s just a word that doesn’t personally describe me.
Who are the female role models that inspire you?
That’s a hard one. There’s a lot because there are many women that inspire me who aren’t just a famous person or a celebrity like myself. If I had to choose a couple, it would have to be Marcia Gay Harden who stands up for what she believes in and is a very humble-hearted person that I’ve met.
Also, Bethany Hamilton [the pro surfer who survived a 2003 shark attack that removed her left arm]. I’ve read about her story and did a report of her in school. The thing I love about her is that we both never stop trying and we do what we love. I also got to meet her brother on set when I was in Hawaii Five-0.
You have nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram where you share many fun moments and experiences. How has social media changed your life?
It’s all about the connections in the social media and networking world. It’s a platform for people to speak about their work or lifestyle and show what they do. It’s another way to have people who are like me to influence others and show others our work. I have gotten connections to get hired for big gigs because of Instagram.
People love your personality because you’re so easygoing, fun and honest. How do you get through those moments when you’re going through a physical, emotional or mental challenge?
I go through many times of stress, anxiety, sadness, happiness… all kinds of emotions just like everyone else. There are times that I feel like I can’t be the Kanya that I want to be. I’m not perfect and I fall down sometimes — and that’s normal.
I need to have more confidence to be true to myself, in how I feel, and learn that I don’t need to always try to ‘have it together’ all the time. I need to be strong for myself and to put myself first.
It’s good to just let go on whatever energy you have so you can regain yourself again and charge. I need to meditate more and when hard life challenges come at me, I need to bite the bullet and be strong through hard times no matter how much it affects me.
I need to fall to get myself back up at times and that’s life. The best way to say this is to surround yourself with things that can distract you in a positive way. The best you can do is not focus on what’s negative.
What’s the most important message you want to share with all the homegirls out there?
We cannot let others say what we may or may not be capable of doing and to define us in what we do. There are great things that can be achieved beyond what is considered normal regardless of the circumstances. Attitude is everything!
Have hope and faith in yourself when times are tough. This is tested in life through obstacles and that’s when it’s best to have faith and learn what you’re capable of. Look for the light at the end of the tunnel.
When you feel you’ve given everything and feel overwhelmed at the end, never give up. Life is a roller coaster. We must achieve through thick and thin.
Stop worrying about what others think about you on social media and in everyday life. Be a better person than who you were yesterday. Confidence is beautiful.
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