Kiland was a star tennis player at Parkway North High School in St. Louis. In fact, he was one of the best in the state for his age group. His team was invited to play in the Mid-Tac Tennis Tournament in Indianapolis. After another triumphant victory, Kiland and his friends went back to the hotel pool to celebrate. Kiland dove in head first to what he thought was eight feet of water. It was only four feet. “All I could do was move my eyes, think, and pray,” says Kiland. “I kept thinking, ‘please God don’t let me die, is this how I’m going to die?’ Then I passed out.”
Luckily Kiland’s tennis partner and friend pulled him out of the water. “If he wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” says Kiland. The ambulance came and rushed Kiland to the hospital. “I saw how much my mom was crying’, he recalls. “I knew it wasn’t good.”
Kiland spent the next two weeks in the ICU recovering and was transferred to Ranken Jordan to learn how to adapt to his new life as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. He arrived at Ranken Jordan depressed and spent as much time as he could alone in his room. He stared at his computer, watching the lives of his friends and fellow tennis players. “Tennis was my life,” Kiland says. “I began playing when I was four-years-old. And here I was, unable to move my legs.”
One day, a volunteer at Ranken Jordan talked to Kiland about his tennis skills. Kiland reminded the volunteer he could hardly move his fingers. The volunteer put a racket in Kiland’s hand and duct tape around it. Kiland felt the grip in his hand and the rush of the game overcame him. He swung the racket over and over. “After that I was a totally different person,” says Kiland. “I started to think about everything that I could do rather than what I couldn’t do. I completely changed my mind set on life.”
Kiland’s entire demeanor changed. He noticed other patients, especially those in wheelchairs, would gravitate towards him at Ranken Jordan. “I think it was my never-give-up attitude,” says Kiland. “There were three guys in wheelchairs there, and they were down in the dumps. Just like I was. I sort of became their role model. They would see me out and socializing and being active, and they started to do the same. I told them there’s a lot of stuff you can do, you just have to try.”
Through intense therapy and self-discipline, Kiland returned to school where he was asked by his coach to play tennis again. At first, he wasn’t wild about the idea, but his mom encouraged him to consider it more. Then, he was approached by the Gerber Wheelchair Tennis Program at Dwight Davis Tennis Center. It seemed the universe wanted Kiland to continue his tennis career. Soon, he was playing again and began to play competitively.
His lifetime of tennis knowledge helped him advance quickly in his wheelchair league. His efforts took him all the way to the US Open Wheelchair Competition in 2015 and 2017. He’s currently preparing the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo, Japan. “I was afraid I was going to need help all my life,” he says. “Ranken Jordan showed me how to be independent. It changed me – not just physically, but mentally.”
Kiland returns to Ranken Jordan every Friday to volunteer. “It brings me so much joy to volunteer,” he says. “The volunteers did so much for me when I was a patient, I only felt it was right to do the same. So I became a volunteer and still to this day, it brings me so much joy. The things I love about volunteering is putting a smile on the kids’ faces and knowing that you’re making a difference. I feel with me being in a wheelchair a lot of the kids can relate to me and I can relate to them. I have become such an inspiration not only to the kids at Ranken Jordan, but the staff as well. I love reading books to the kids, playing catch, video games, and even going on out trips to the zoo, St. Louis Science Center etc. Interacting with the staff is something I love as well. I have developed a relationship with so many nurses and CNAs throughout the years. So many people at Ranken Jordan tell me every day I go there, ‘you’re such an inspiration to the kids here.’”