Kiana Clay spearheads fight for women’s adaptive snowboarding at Paralympics
Dillon local Kiana Clay is fighting to not only get her event of adaptive snowboarding reinstated at the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games, but she is also fighting to represent women across the world who have disabilities like her own.
The three-sport athlete who competes in snowboarding, motocross and surfing lost function in her dominant right arm in a motocross accident when she was 12 years old.
Clay’s condition improved in the hospital in the following weeks, yet shortly after being released she was in a car accident and doctors informed her that she would never regain movement in that arm.
In 2015, Clay was introduced to Paralympic snowboarding medalist Mike Schultz, who told her about Action Adaptive Sports at Copper Mountain Resort. Since then, Clay has been living and training with Action Adaptive Sports and actively preparing for adaptive snowboarding events across the globe.
Clay has been prepping for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games for the past four to five years, competing in the division for women with upper-limb impairments. Women’s adaptive snowboarding made its debut at the Paralympic games in Sochi, Russia, in 2018 and the women’s upper-limb class has grown significantly in recent years.
Despite the category growing in international competition, the International Paralympic Committee voted to exclude it from the upcoming games in Beijing, bringing Clay’s dreams to represent her country and those with disabilities to a standstill. As it stands, Clay won’t be able to represent her country at the Paralympics until the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.
“It’s wrong, it’s flat out wrong,” Clay said. “The way that the committee voted was wrong, as well. They didn’t do it the way they typically do it. Usually the decision is made off of criteria as opposed to a vote.”
According to Clay, the committee voted the way they did because of the lack of competition in the category during the 2020-21 season, even though the majority of the competitions were nonexistent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It isn’t that the upper-limb class is under represented, either, since the competition is included at World Cup events with representatives from most participating countries.
“It’s not only a fight for women’s rights, as the men are going to be able to compete, but it is also an issue of overall inclusion,” Clay said. “I guarantee you there is going to be a little girl with an upper arm disability and she isn’t going to see herself being represented.”
Clay plans to leave the petition open for another two weeks before submitting it to the International Paralympic Committee. The GoFundMe will help Clay pay for the travel expenses to make sure she attends every World Cup event this competition year in order to use her voice to hopefully enact change.
“Hopefully I will make enough noise with all the other girls that our class needs to be included and that we are showing up and exist,” Clay said.
Clay said that the committee can reverse its decision pretty much right up until the beginning of the Paralympic Games, so she has been training like she will be traveling to China to compete in the upper-limb snowboarding category.
The combination of training for the Paralympics while lobbying for your category to be reinstated seems stressful, but it has invoked a different feeling for Clay.
“I look at it as an honor as I took it upon myself to be the voice for this because I am passionate about snowboarding,” Clay said. “I also was once that little girl who wondered what was possible with having one arm, so it’s more coming from passion and whenever it comes from passion there usually is no stress to it. Even if it doesn’t get passed, at least there is someone who is fighting for it and it’s cool to think that person is myself.”
Clay will next compete Nov. 28 to 30 in the Netherlands and Dec. 10 to 12 in Finland for two upper-limb snowboarding World Cup events. She will then make her way home for the 2021 Winter Dew Tour from Dec. 16 to 19 at Copper Mountain.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.