New York Fashion Week is world-renowned for its spectacles. The entire industry turns its eager attention to each show, anticipating the opportunity to behold something never before seen. It’s a high standard to meet, and many shows fall short, but heads turned when Kanya Sesser hit the runway on her skateboard.
She wasn’t the first model to bring a skateboard onto the runway, but Sesser is in a league of her own, because she was born without legs. By representing the fashion brand Smock Me, the tattooed action-sports aficionado and actress didn’t intend to just give the show a bit of edge, she proved that people with disabilities can accomplish anything they put their mind to, even at an event with a sketchy track record when it comes to inclusivity.
“I’ve had this dream since I was young to walk down on my hands or skate down the runway,” Sesser says. “I think it’s so incredibly amazing how we’re trying to get inclusion of disabilities in the fashion world. That powerful moment when I went down there and I stood at the end, people were like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ It just showed that anything was truly possible.”
Born in Thailand and raised by adoptive parents in Portland, Oregon, Sesser never even considered the possibility that her disability would hold her back. As a headstrong and adventurous child with unlimited energy, skateboarding ended up being the perfect outlet for her.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I want to do something that is active,’” she explains. “I was such a hyper kid, I’d rarely sleep, I was just go and go. I was nine and all my friends skateboarded. Nobody taught me how to skateboard, I adapted so easily. On my first attempt I wanted to go down this hill, so I just went for it. Then this car was coming so I had to bail, but I was like, ‘Skateboarding is so much fun!’
“Skateboarding really expanded my life,” Sesser continues. “It doesn’t make me feel trapped the way my wheelchair does. The skateboard makes me feel amazing and I can do anything, I feel free.”
Skating was just the first of many athletic endeavors Sesser would take on. Soon she was surfing in the frigid Pacific; from there, she would compete in the Paralympics as a sprinter and an alpine skier and most recently she’s been doing her own stunts as an actress on “Fear the Walking Dead.”
Doing stunts is one thing, but doing the heavy emotional lifting of acting is a completely different challenge, one that Sesser has taken on with vigor. Her role as Rosey Valera on “Hawaii 5-0” encouraged her to take on challenging roles. There were elements in Rosey that echoed her real life experience—being a skilled surfer—but other parts forced her to dig deep.
“I had to put myself in this situation where I had lost my legs during a war when a bomb exploded, killing everybody else but me,” she recalls. “I never lost my legs, but this character did and in real life people can get PTSD from that. I had to get into that mindset, which was a little challenging, and understand this character who just wants to give up everything.”
Giving up simply isn’t in Sesser’s DNA. Whether it’s a new sport, getting into acting or doing her little turn on the catwalk, there isn’t an endeavor she isn’t willing to try. Soon she will be taking on her most immersive acting role yet, and given her track record, she’ll surely be a success.
As we watch her live her life with no limits, it’s almost impossible to not be inspired. But for Sesser, she’s just being who she was born to be.
“I have a disability and I don’t mind saying that I do,” she says, “but I don’t feel like I have a disability. I feel like I’m the same but I just do things differently. I climb things and walk on my hands, I use my upper body more than most people, but I’m still capable. I feel like I’m not disabled but I do have a disability. There’s a difference.”