The Powerhouse With the Power Chair: Meet Kierra, MDA’s North Carolina State Ambassador

Kierra strikes a pose in her power chair.

Rob and Wendy Sunris were a little worried when their daughter, Kierra, left elementary school to enter middle school. It was a big transition for her, they thought.

But soon enough, their girl was practically running the place.

“The best thing that we could say is what her assistant principal, who’s in charge of the sixth grade, says — that Kierra is just thriving,” Rob says. “Everybody knows her. She zips around all over the place in her chair. ”

And that’s how it goes with Kierra, who was diagnosed at 2 years old with Ulrich myopathy, a type of congenital muscular dystrophy that causes weakness in the muscles that control movement. She has difficulty walking and picking up things like water bottles and her backpack, but Kierra doesn’t let the challenges she faces get in the way of what she wants to do.

Kierra cheerleads, rides horses, is an ardent fan of the Charlotte MDA Summer Camp and travels around North Carolina as the state ambassador. And, of course, she’s the Mayor of Marvin Ridge Middle School.

“She has a brother in eighth grade, so he’s about to move out of middle school, but she’ll have people coming up to her that she doesn’t even know, like, ‘Hi Kierra!’,” her dad says. “They all know her and she’s trying to remember everybody’s names.”

Kierra gives a thumbs up on the football field while cheerleading.

She’s always been a whirlwind. But Kierra’s new power chair has turned that whirlwind into a tiny tornado.

The family got the power chair last December and Kierra has now been using it regularly for about a year. Kierra’s parents have watched her blossom into this new independence.

When cheerleading, she doesn’t need anyone to push her around the football field anymore. When she arrives at the farm for her horseback riding lessons, she can simply motor up the ramp to get on the horse. She doesn’t need someone to walk her up.

Kierra sells MDA Shamrocks as North Carolina’s MDA Ambassador. As an ambassador, she’s involved in everything from the silent auction at the Muscle Team fundraiser (her dad sits on the planning committee) to speaking at events. “It’s actually really, really cool, because I’m able to do more things now and be more involved with MDA than I used to be,” she says of being ambassador.

“It just makes a lot of things a lot easier,” she says.

But Kierra did have fears about the new power chair. She had wondered what would happen with her friends, since they wouldn’t need to help her as much anymore with this new chair. Plus, she was worried for their safety.

“I was afraid that I would run over them if I got really close to them,” she says. “I was also worried for me. I was afraid that if I used the power chair too much, I wouldn’t be able to walk anymore without help.”

But Kierra still does laps around her house, with her parents’ help, on her own two feet. And even though she has accidentally run down her friends once or twice, they’ve stuck around.

“Sometimes I’m able to give my friends rides on the back of it, if we’re hanging out in the afternoon or over the weekend,” she says.

In PE class, Kierra has felt more included now that she can do warm-up laps with her friends.

“In my power chair, I’m able to go around and still be able to hang out with my friends, instead of my being hidden off in the corner,” she says.

Kierra also learned how to dribble a basketball with one hand, while driving with the other — a pretty awesome feat of motorized chair mastery.

The chair makes it easier for this energetic 12-year-old to do what she wants to do, whether it’s horseback riding now or perhaps realizing her dream of working in theater or film when she’s older.

Kierra (left) with her counselor Farah Housh (center) and her camp buddy Elenor at the Charlotte, NC MDA Summer Camp. This will be Kierra’s fifth year at camp. Her favorite parts? Definitely the pool party and the end-of-camp dance.

All in all, Kierra is a powerhouse, with and without her power chair.

She has some advice for anyone on the cusp of sitting down in their first power chair: Take your time getting comfortable with the chair and know that you don’t have to use it all the time.

But when it comes down to it, she says, “Go for it.”