If you’ve been to the Venice Skate Park lately, chances are you’ve seen Kanya Sesser grinding by on her board in cutoffs, wavy jet black hair whipping against her tanned back. She is striking, not only for the ornate tattoos on her shoulders and forearms, but also because she skateboards — and surfs and skis — without legs, a condition with which she was born. She moves around mostly without the use of a wheelchair, instead using her hands or skateboard as transportation.
Born in Thailand, Sesser was abandoned at a Buddhist temple as an infant and left in the care of monks. She was adopted at age 5 by an American couple and grew up in Oregon, where she excelled in adaptive sports, winning national titles in track. In 2014 she came close to qualifying for the Winter Paralympic Games in mono-skiing.
But when her story went viral in 2015, she became more known for her sex appeal than for her athleticism. “Aspiring model born without legs makes $1,000 a day,” headlines blared, touching on her occasional work as a lingerie model — misleading headlines, she says.
“I had said I make up to around that much. Back in 2015, I didn’t really understand or know how this business worked,” says Sesser, 25, of her sudden celebrity status.
It became something of a double-edged sword for Sesser: She nabbed
guest spots on network TV shows like “Code Black” and “Hawaii Five-0,” and performed with the now-shuttered Venice Beach Freakshow.
But as social media often depicts life through a filter, what many didn’t know about were her subsequent personal struggles: the friend she had been living with in Los Angeles passed away suddenly, leaving Sesser without a stable home for months. She slept in vans and, sometimes, on the beach not far from the skate park, and showered at her gym; it was too awkward, she says, to reach out to her parents for help.
“I had nowhere to go, and I didn’t want to leave Venice Beach. It was a real eye-opener,” says Sesser.
These days Sesser has her own apartment and works consistently as a stunt performer, actor, model and, now, motivational speaker, returning to her native Thailand last October for an engagement. She also hasn’t given up her dreams of making it to the Paralympic Games one day and trains with Oregon Adaptive Sports.
Sesser says she is heartened by strangers who have been inspired by her story
and her motto: “No legs, no limits.” But one thing they should never feel for her
“[Some people] want to feel saddened by your disability. They’ll come up to me and say, “Can I pray for you?” I’d rather not have you pray for me,” she says. “Sometimes, I want to punch those people because it’s kind of rude. I’m just Kanya. I’m just living my life.”
— Audrey Cleo Yap