What a winter it has been! The one-two punch of harsh weather and the effects of a global pandemic has put a strain on all of us. Fortunately, with spring on the horizon, there’s an opportunity to take a breath and seize the mental health benefits that come with spending a little time outdoors.
It’s something that Rad Rider Kiara Marshall knows all about.
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History month and focus on the transformative power of accessible transportation, we wanted to uplift Kiara’s story, and share how a RadRunner has allowed her to experience more freedom outside — and the solace and confidence that comes with it.
At the age of 10, Kiara was hit by a drunk driver and lost part of her leg below the knee, which led to a partial amputation the following year.
She now works in New York as a professional model. From being featured in the pages of leading style magazines to shining in campaigns hosted by top-tier fashion brands, Kiara is committed to using her platform to promote the representation of people with disabilities in the media.
“I wanted to be a model because I didn't see a lot of people that look like me in the media with different types of bodies,” she said, “People like me really weren’t represented when I was younger. I'm nearly 30 now, and I feel like we're just starting to see that positive representation of all different kinds of bodies, which is really beautiful.”
During the height of the pandemic last year, Kiara and her partner started looking for alternative forms of transportation in order to stay safe and avoid the crowded subways of New York. They noticed so many people in the city riding ebikes, and decided to do their research. That’s when they discovered Rad Power Bikes as a way to enjoy spending time outside together.
“We loved that with the passenger package, it had two seats,” she explained. “I hadn’t been on a bike in so long, not since before my car accident. It completely changed our lives. It really gave us hope during a time of such confusion as to what was going on in the world. We ended up riding the bike around New York City every single day.”
That connection between getting outside and elevating your mood is something that Kiara’s been aware of for quite some time. Before pursuing a professional career in modeling, Kiara studied mental health with an emphasis on recreational therapy, which eventually led to her working as a backpacking guide and heading her campus’s outdoor center.
“I was initially drawn to mental health because I think it’s treated as a taboo in our society and I definitely wanted to be a part of changing that narrative. I spent a lot of time as a kid in and out of the hospital after my accident, and I had a child specialist who was amazing. We did a lot of play therapy and just really helped me cope with the trauma that I was dealing with. Then as I grew up, I found this major that seemed to connect to that: recreational therapy.”
“I discovered that we need to be outside as people,” she told us. “There are so many distractions inside. We associate it with the pressure of work. Just being outdoors gives us a lot of natural benefits. For me, in particular, that also means pushing my body and realizing that I can do a lot more than I give myself credit for.”
Kiara’s electric bike has helped her realize that sense of triumph, especially since she decided to live a car-free life in the Big Apple.
“Being able to just ride anywhere on the bike, has really made my life easier as a disabled person,” she said. “It was really freeing. The city was a little hard to access since it’s big and there's a lot of walking. With the bike, the city shrinks and I feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. I feel very empowered that I don't have to be in pain when I need to go do things, and now getting there is the most fun part.”
As spring approaches and the weather starts to warm up, Kiara looks forward to maximizing her time outside with her partner. For them, that’ll mean long days spent riding around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a 586-acre piece of green space in the heart of the borough.
“Every day we go through the bike loop,” she said. “When I get that breath of fresh air and feel the sun, there’s really nothing like it. It’s the coolest thing in the world.”