Actress, model, motivational speaker, professional winter and summer extreme sports athlete, and…entrepreneur? If the last one seems out of place, it’s not. “As an athlete in the Paralympics, we don’t just get money . . . we have to show people what we’re doing and achieving . . . I put myself in a way where I [get] noticed by people and [have] opportunities.” In so many ways, Kanya’s statement epitomizes the success she’s seen today. This is a woman who embraces every challenge thrown her way and knows how to stay in front. And if you haven’t heard of Kanya Sesser, you’re about to—although you’ve probably already spotted her in your favorite shows, sports or ad campaign.
Endurance is a word Kanya embodies with a smile. Her energy captivates you the moment you meet her. This same energy and talent has drawn the more recent attention of the CBS show “Hawaii Five-0,” which has her in an entirely new type of role. “When I was playing Rosey Valera,” Kanya reflects, “her and I are different—she lost her legs. I never ‘lost’ my legs, and I get that . . . you need to be like, ‘Alright, gotta be in character, how would I feel if I lost my legs in a war accident?’ . . . I’ve never been to a war, I don’t know what that’s like, that’s for sure.” It was easily her toughest role to date but a chance she couldn’t miss. Most impressively (but not unsurprisingly), Kanya landed this part with almost no formal acting experience—and killed it. To say the least she was honored to have been called for the role and just as much for the opportunity to surf in Hawaii!
She first drew national attention for her swimsuit and lingerie modeling in 2015, working with Panty Prop, Nike and Billabong. To say the least, she came out swinging. Her first major acting gig was on another CBS network program, “Code Black,” which was nothing like her role in “Five-0.” As Kanya recalls, “I didn’t have to say anything. I just [lay] there like I was dying and lost my legs because someone ran me over at the Whole Foods market . . . I was on that hospital bed for hours!” She can’t help but laugh while explaining the experience. There’s not much she doesn’t laugh at, perhaps one of the many reasons she remains not only driven and successful, but the person in the room who everyone gravitates towards. It’s impressive to see her magnetic personality in action.
L.A. has provided a perfect haven for Kanya. There aren’t many places in the world where you’re surrounded by ample business opportunities, a jungle of concrete and a myriad of beaches, trails and mountains to explore. Since age nine, “right after learning English,” Kanya took to skateboarding and surfing. The many other sports she participates in followed shortly thereafter. The city was also a natural relocation for her Paralympic training. One of the only things she hasn’t come to love about L.A. is the dating scene. “If I see another cupid,” Kanya jokes, “I’m gonna shoot him!”
In recent years, motivational speaking has taken a center role in her daily life. Yes, she’s only 25, but has achieved more than many do in their entire life. She’s podiumed mono-skiing events since childhood, narrowly missing qualification for the 2014 Paralympic Games, and at the 2011 World National Championships for track was recorded as the third fastest woman in the world. As soon as she realized her story could help others, she knew the path she had to take.
Now back to her entrepreneurship—it doesn’t come out of nowhere. After grinding her way through extreme sports and the battle of acquiring sponsorships, “I [worked] at the Venice Beach Freak Show,” as a motivational speaker says Kanya. It was “designed by Todd Ray, my best friend—also my manager and all that. What he does is really amazing, and he definitely supports me [and gives] me opportunities to become a better speaker. I really appreciate what I do,” shares Kanya.
But this relationship has taken her well beyond the VBFS. Capturing her already driven spirit, Todd has helped craft her unstoppable drive to direction. There’s even rumors around of a new Kanya directed project. I’d say it’s about time – considering she’s steered the trajectory of her life from a very early age.
Kanya didn’t come to the U.S. until she was five years old. She was discovered on the steps of a Buddhist temple in Thailand as an infant, then raised by local monks until she was transferred to various homes. A sweet older couple cared for her for several years until her adoption to a wonderful family in Portland, Oregon, was finalized. Beyond the support of her family, Kanya was embraced by the Portland community. “I put myself in a way where I got noticed by people,” she remembers. “I had opportunities.” Oregon Adaptive Sports facilitated some of her most fruitful connections as a young athlete, not to mention a brand new world of extreme sports, equipment and techniques.
Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Kanya has achieved everything she’s set out to do, and she might be the most motivated person we’ve had the pleasure of knowing. If nothing else, there’s a lot to learn from her motto alone: “No legs, no limits.”
Read More Articles from the October DOPE “Active Issue”