When Kiana Clay moved from Texas to Colorado to train adaptive snowboarding full-time with the Adaptive Action Sports team, it served the many sacrifices she made – including several jobs to make a living and temporarily live off her truck – one overarching goal: participation in the Paralympics in Beijing in 2022.
But Clay may not have the opportunity to compete in her disciplines of bordercross and slalom in the upcoming Paralympics – not because she has done something or because her skill level is not high enough; The 27-year-old won the Dew Tour adaptive slalom competition at Copper Mountain earlier this month.
Rather, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has not included Clays class – SB-UL or female snowboarders with impairment of the upper extremities – as a discipline at the upcoming Paralympics, as they have too small a group of participants.
The women have World Cup and World Championship events through World Para Snowboard, with athletes represented in most of the participating countries – including a large contingent in China hosting the rapidly approaching Games – but with the interruption of Covid-19 not enough Women attend these events to persuade the IPC to accept the class at the Beijing Games.
The same does not apply to the men who have Paralympic events in the SB-UL class as well as two classes with lower body disabilities.
The women’s upper extremity class is guaranteed to have an event at the 2026 Winter Paralympic Games in Italy, but as Clay points out, this is no consolation for the women who are now ready to compete and have trained for the 2022 Games.
So Clay started A petition she plans to submit to the IPC and implore the committee to include her class in the program for the Beijing Paralympics.
“I’m really just trying to be the voice for adding this new category and creating more opportunities for not just upper limb women but adaptive sports in general,” Clay told me.
Clay was bullied because she was “bossy” and “loud” in her childhood and who was drawn to anything that happened quickly from a young age.
Clay did not participate in professional snowboarding competitions prior to the accident that left her without her right – and dominant – arm at the age of 12. She was participating in motocross at the time and suffered a neck injury in a fall during a race that made it difficult to use her arm. A car accident shortly afterwards confirmed that it would be permanently without use.
It wasn’t until college that Clay got back on a dirt bike, but when she did she had a chance meeting at a race with adaptive snowboarder and Paralympian Mike Schultz, who had also ridden dirt bikes and snowmobiles prior to a competition that led to a snowmobile accident Amputation of his left leg above the knee.
Schultz started snowboarding after meeting Daniel Gale and Amy Purdy, founders of Copper Mountain-based adaptive action sport. Clay told Schultz that she hadn’t had a snowboard since childhood, but he recommended that she contact Gale and Purdy.
Although she didn’t snowboard as an adult until four years ago, Clay has become the best adaptive snowboarder in the country with an upper limb impairment.
In January 2021, Clay signed a contract with Burton Snowboards and worked with Innovative Prototyping Engineer Chris Doyle and the Rapid Prototyping Team to provide real-world feedback on the brand’s step-on technology that revolutionized Clay driving.
Without wasting precious minutes strapping the bindings on and off, which is difficult to do with one arm and has to reach across the body, Clay can just get on her board and she can win another race.
Clay’s mission to appeal to the IPC is supported by its sponsors, Burton and Microsoft
But everyone understands that the petition is a long road; Clay continues to train full-time for Paralympics, which she may not attend.
“We always knew from the start that the probability [the petition] the work was probably a fraction; Still, I think it was important to make sure that voice was heard, ”said Gale. “The biggest thing we can do as an organization focused on growing athletes through our pipeline is to get more UL category athletes. And the higher we can make this classification within the World Para Snowboard Circuit, then it becomes a class in the games. “
And it’s not just Clay’s class that’s affected. Purdy is a three-time Paralympic medalist in her two disciplines, Slalom and Bordercross, but her SB-LL1 class – that of the IPC defines “significant impairment in one leg, for example an amputation above the knee or significant combined impairment in” two legs , for example marked muscle weakness or spasticity in both legs ”- was eliminated from the Paralympics in Beijing.
Clay’s class has yet to be accepted into a Paralympic program as there weren’t enough women in the previous World Cup – although it’s a big class now and undoubtedly has enough women to appear in the Paralympic program.
But Purdy’s class was completely eliminated because their competitors either recently retired or got injured.
“There are women who have won medals in the last few games who cannot compete now because they eliminated my class,” said Purdy. “We need more women who represent what is possible and who inspire more women to get involved.”
One possibility would be for all adaptive female snowboarders to compete in the same category; At the Paralympics in Sochi 2014, women SB-LL1 and SB-LL2 (“an impairment in one or two legs with less activity restriction”) competed together. As the women’s SB-LL1 pool grew, it became a separate class for PyeongChang 2018.
It would be technically a disadvantage for the SB-LL1 women with a higher disability to compete against the SB-LL2 class, but many of them would prefer to compete together in a class that is not competing at all. However, the IPC has rejected this idea several times.
And for Clay’s class, there’s a clear cyclical problem that female snowboarders seeing others with their disabilities compete in the Paralympics would be the ultimate visibility to encourage more women to get involved … but the IPC won’t become one until later Set up SB-UL class Women get involved.
“It’s really frustrating, but at the same time it’s been a really cool journey because the connections I made and the adaptive sports made more alive in the community have been great. So the petition actually did a lot more good, ”said Clay.
“I just remember being that little girl with an upper limb disability who was wondering if certain things were possible, and I don’t want a little girl to see the Paralympics and not see her category and you see that Gives the feeling that she has no place in this world or makes her feel that she is unable to do anything because she has an upper limb disability. Somehow that’s my main goal. “