Parenting in and of itself is a medal-worthy feat, but in the case of local mom Kaleo Kanahele Maclay, she already has not one but two Paralympic gold medals in sitting volleyball. A setter for Team USA, Maclay helped her team defend their Paralympic sitting volleyball title over rival China in summer 2021. She also has a Paralympic gold medal from the Rio games in 2016 and a silver medal from London in 2012.
A native of Oklahoma City and graduate of Edmond schools, Maclay was born with a club foot. She underwent a tenotomy at nine months old to place pins through her toe and heel bones, which left her with limited calf flexibility and muscle. Maclay began playing volleyball for Oklahoma Peak Performance before moving on to sitting volleyball at age 12 under U.S. Paralympic coach Bill Hamiter.
Maclay sat down with MetroFamily at Flower & Flour, the coffee/flower shop in Deep Deuce that she runs with her husband, Matt. She talked about her life as an athlete; balancing being a wife, mom and business owner; and how she takes care of herself through it all.
Maclay attributes her success to her mother, Charla Kanahele, who exposed her to a variety of sports at a young age. Charla was an athlete herself, playing basketball for Baylor University then playing volleyball. Despite Maclay’s disability, she says her mother didn’t treat her any differently.
“I didn’t grow up with this large knowledge of my disability so I wasn’t treated as if I had one,” recalls Maclay. “Like most kids with disabilities, we just end up figuring out how to navigate the world. Whenever it came to sports, my mom treated me just like my sister. She wouldn’t do anything to coddle because she didn’t want anyone to look at me differently for it. She knew that I was capable of doing things like everyone else.”
At a young age, Maclay sampled a variety of activities from gymnastics and ballet to softball and basketball, and she was ultimately drawn to volleyball.
“Once my sister and I chose [our sports], my mom was so willing to be 110 percent in,” said Maclay. “If we liked basketball, she put us in any basketball camp. If I liked volleyball, she put me in any volleyball camp or tournament she could find. There was no limit to her devotion to creating these opportunities.”
Oklahoma City is a Paralympic and Olympic training center and Maclay practices at the University of Central Oklahoma every morning.
In addition to being an athlete, Maclay is also a mom to Duke, 4, with her second child due in May. Aside from running Flower & Flour with her husband, she also designs custom cookies through her business Cookies x Kaleo.
Like so many parents experience, Maclay’s biggest challenge is balancing her time.
“I think the biggest challenge for me is time because there are only so many hours in the day and just [finding time] to take care of myself,” said Maclay. “When you are juggling many things, you forget that you are still a human and have to take care of yourself.”
She says being intentional and present is her key to finding balance.
“I try to focus on whatever I am doing while I’m there,” said Maclay. “If I’m baking cookies at the shop, I’m focused on that. If I’m at practice, my plan is to be at practice. Obviously, things can get muddled in between but that’s at least what I try to do.”
For Maclay, motherhood has also inspired her to become a better athlete.
“It’s made me more purposeful when I’m in the gym,” adds Maclay. “Because if I’m going to be away from Duke when he’s at school, I want to also be doing something with my time that makes it feel worth it being away from him. It’s made me more intentional and also value the opportunities that I’ve been given.”
So does Duke understand his mommy is a two-time Paralympic champion?
“Not at all!” laughs Maclay. “He understands that mommy plays volleyball but he doesn’t understand that’s my job. To him, my job is baking cookies. He’s not fully aware yet. But I love that he knows my team, the work I put in and that I go to volleyball every morning — those are the parts of volleyball that most people don’t see. [The] majority of people see the matches and medals but they don’t see the behind-the-scenes. I love showing my family the behind-the-scenes of it because it makes all of this matter more. Even if they don’t see all the medals and accolades, at least they see the hard work.”
For parents looking to support their young, budding athletes, Maclay’s biggest advice comes from how her own mother raised her.
“For any parent who is wanting to get their child involved in sports, open opportunities for them to try every sport and then let them choose,” advises Mclay. “Kids tend to gravitate to what they like most and what environment they enjoy.”
For parents of a child with a disability, Maclay encourages them to expose their child to role models with whom they can identify.
“I only knew about two people who had club foot and had become athletes,” said Maclay. “But even if their kids are missing limbs or have other disabilities, there are other people in the world who are like them and are on this awesome stage doing incredible things.”
Maclay encourages families to check out the Endeavor Games, which takes place at UCO each year and is one of the nation’s largest multi-sport, multi-disability events. The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) is another resource for families that provides opportunities and support for those with physical challenges.
As Maclay continues to train, manage her businesses and prepare for baby No. 2, one question still lingers: Will we see her at the Paris Paralympics in 2024?
With a glimmer in her eye, she responds: “That’s the plan.”