Kiley and Kaylin: Using Athletics to Make a Difference (Then & Now: Stories of Notre Dame Women)

Author: Michelle McDaniel

Then Now Kiley

Kiley Adams '17 is motivated by three things: helping people with disabilities, athletics, and giving others the chance to feel like they belong.

With those inspirations, Kiley has been a Sorin Society Scholar, Notre Dame varsity soccer athlete, undergraduate researcher, and World Taekwondo Federation fourth-degree master black belt and instructor.

She’s also spent years working to help people with disabilities around the world access sports and nature through fellowships, research, and a program that she has created.

Kiley has given a Ted Talk at the largest venue in India, had her research presented at numerous medical conferences, and the World Health Organization has published her work on rural disability programming.

Although she had been working with people with disabilities since the day she turned 13—the soonest she was legally able to—Kiley didn’t know what she wanted to do with her career when she first arrived at Notre Dame. However, with inspiration from peers and mentors—as well as assurance from the work and research opportunities she found during college—Kiley decided to continue helping those with disabilities find belonging.

“The more experiences I got in that area, the more I realized that it was the work that made me feel most alive and felt most genuine to my skills. It was a place that felt like home. It has always felt right. I credit Notre Dame with helping me realize my potential.

Since her acceptance into Notre Dame, her work has followed her around the world. From Washington to India, Alaska, England, and many places in between, she has worked tirelessly to help bring a sense of belonging to those with disabilities.

As an undergraduate, Adams spent the summers of 2015 and 2016 in India at the Vidya Sagar School for the Disabled, working with children with cerebral palsy and other movement disorders. Noticing a lack of diversity in outdoor spaces, Adams also partnered with the Indian non-profit NGO Adventures Beyond Barriers after she graduated to organize inclusive outdoor activities for people with disabilities that continue today.

When she moved from India to Alaska to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Adams became an adaptive outdoor sports instructor. Simultaneously, she helped run and research Youth Employment in Parks (YEP), a vocational program that employs teens with disabilities in Juneau, Alaska, as local trail crew workers. 

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Juneau, Alaska

“I feel like I belong in the outdoors, and I care about people feeling like they're seen, heard, and understood in whatever space they're in and whatever bodies and identities they carry into those spaces,” she said.

Adams enrolled in medical school to pursue her interest in better serving patients with disabilities and to learn more about sustainability. While tackling school, she further embraced her commitment to service by securing multiple grants to purchase off-terrain trail wheelchairs for use on unpaved nature trails by people with mobility needs. Partnering with multiple local and state parks, Adams single-handedly started the first free, community-rental trail chair system in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“In an area like Southeast Michigan, where trails abound, having equal access to spaces beyond the pavement is a must, and these chairs help bridge that basic right,” she said.

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Now working with both government and private donors, Adams is poised to begin a state-wide program of trail wheelchairs being housed at every Michigan park.

Today, among various other pursuits, Kiley is working at the intersection of climate change and human health, giving talks and lectures on her research to help promote healthier living for all.

While she has already changed many lives in the six years since her graduation by helping those with disabilities access sports and nature, Kiley will continue to impact the lives of those she touches, especially those with disabilities.

“It is a really serious topic to make sure that spaces are accessible to folks, but it's also a really fun space to be in,” Kiley said. “Even though I am a very intense person who likes to get things done, I also care very deeply about having a lot of fun along the way.”

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Kaylin Slattery ’24 has enjoyed playing soccer since she was three years old. Now, she uses her love for the sport to bring others together on and off the field.

A member of the Notre Dame women’s soccer leadership council, Kaylin acts as a spokesperson for her team members and works to foster a healthy culture for her team.

“If you focus on developing the culture, that will allow your team to be successful, and you'll see those results on the field,” she said.

One goal of hers is to lead by example, which she does by working as a team representative for the Fight for Life program.

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Organized by Student Welfare and Development, a division of Notre Dame Athletics, Fighting Irish Fight for Life pairs pediatric cancer patients from Beacon Children’s Hospital with Notre Dame Athletics teams, from football and basketball to soccer and tennis. 

Despite how proud she is of her team’s deep playoff run last season, Kaylin says that her absolute proudest achievement within the soccer team is her involvement in Fight for Life.

“Having that connection with Fight for Life is super awesome because we get to see that we're making a difference in others’ lives, and seeing how Notre Dame athletics can help people in local communities is really empowering,” Kaylin said.

Inspired by her time as a Notre Dame soccer player, Kaylin wants to stay in the sports industry. 

“I'm really passionate about sports, and I love how they can bring people together,” Kaylin said. “That's something I want to do in the future.”