Alyssa Cleland, a 23-year-old influencer and para-dressage rider, was abandoned at birth in a small town in the Ukraine and diagnosed with paraxial tibial hemimelia, which affects one in a million people. The athlete spent the first year of her life in a hospital and wasn’t expected to live much longer than that.
Because of the rare condition, she never developed middle fingers or the tibia on her right leg. When she was four years old, she was adopted by her American parents and had her leg amputated above the knee so she could use a prosthetic to walk.
‘I’ve lived with a prosthetic my entire life,’ she explained in one TikTok video. ‘I’ve had quite a few prosthetics in my little lifetime, and honestly, I could not imagine my life any differently.’
Alyssa grew up in Southern California with her adoptive family and defied expectations by becoming an impressive athlete.
She did triathlons, played soccer, baseball, and volleyball, and developed a passion for horseback riding.
‘I started riding when I was ten, but it proved to be quite difficult as many facilities wouldn’t allow me to ride since they saw my leg as a liability,’ she wrote in her Facebook bio. ‘Because of this, I turned to volleyball instead.’
She played volleyball throughout middle school and high school. In 2015, she moved to Oklahoma to join the Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team, but she still loved horseback riding and would do it whenever she could.
Alyssa eventually left the team to pursue her equestrian dreams and moved to Texas to train full time as a para-dressage rider with the goal of competing in the 2024 Paralympic Games.
While training, she has been using her social media platform to share her journey and answer questions about being an amputee and having a prosthetic.
Alyssa has more than 674,000 TikTok followers thanks to her positive videos, which often show her dancing with — and without — her prosthetic. Earlier this month, she celebrated her 23rd birthday with a video recalling how she was abandoned at birth and wasn’t expected to live past the age of one.
‘I turn 23 today & am thriving!’ she captioned footage of herself dancing.
Alyssa has joked about how she is ‘unable to flip people off’ because she doesn’t have middle fingers. In one clip, she explained that people are constantly asking her what she can and can’t do with four fingers on each hand.
She went on to demonstrate how she types, pointing out that it’s not really any different than how other people type.
In another video, she showed fans how she drives using her left leg while tucking her prosthetic out of the way.
Alyssa has even demonstrated how she goes to the bathroom with her prosthetic, admitting she didn’t realize she could leave it on until she was 20 years old.
She was recently interviewed about her relationship with her 58-year-old boyfriend, Rick, who is 36 years her senior.
He was her boss when they met while working at the same land surveying company in 2018. They matched on Tinder, but they initially agreed not to take things any further because they didn’t want to complicate their working relationship.
However, after meeting up and enjoying four hours of engaging conversation, they soon changed their minds and agreed to start dating — as long as they were no longer working together.
Rick ended up leaving his job as CFO so that they could embark on their relationship, and the two have lived together ever since, with every intention of getting married in the future.
‘I’m in love with Rick for sure. And I’m just waiting for a ring at this point. Even if it means changing his diapers, I’m in it for the long haul,’ she said.
‘I could be hit by a car tomorrow. No one knows how long we have on this earth. And so I think just spending it with the people you love despite, him getting older, quicker. It’s all we can really do.’