Modra was born in the South Australian town of Port Lincoln on 27 March 1972 as the third of four children, and became visually impaired due to congenital juvenile optic atrophy. He grew up on a farm in Greenpatch, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Port Lincoln, and attended high school at Immanuel College. His sister, Tania Modra, piloted Sarnya Parker in tandem cycling at the 2000 Sydney Games, where the pair won two gold medals.
Modra began pole vaulting in 1987 and won the pole vaulting competition at the 1989 Australian All-School Championships. He competed in athletics at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics where he competed in the Men's 1500 m B3 and Men's Javelin B3. He took up swimming to aid his recovery from a knee injury, and began competing in the sport in 1990. At the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, where he competed in both athletics and swimming, he won two bronze medals in the Men's 100 m Backstroke B3 and Men's 200 m Backstroke B3 events.
Modra then switched to road and track cycle racing in 1995, because it was a "mode of transport". At the 1996 Atlanta Games, where he was piloted by his future wife Kerry Golding, he won a gold medal in the Mixed 200 m Sprint Tandem open event. In 1998 and 1999, he held an Australian Institute of Sport Athletes with a Disability scholarship. At the 1998 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Colorado Springs with pilot Kerry Modra, he won gold medals in the Mixed Tandem Sprint B, Mixed Tandem Time Trial B and Mixed Individual Pursuit B. He competed in the 2000 Sydney Games, but did not win any medals at those Games. Modra's pilot, Kerry, was pregnant with the couple's first child at the games, and fainted due to low blood pressure during a quarter-final sprint race; Modra's sister, Tania, was his pilot for the rest of the games. At the 2002 IPC World Cycling Championships in Altenstadt, Germany with pilot Darren Harry, he won gold medals in the Men's Tandem Sprint Time Trial and Men's Tandem 1 km Time Trial.
Leading up to the 2004 Athens Games, Modra was piloted by David Short and Robert Crowe for sprint and endurance events, respectively. Shortly before the games, he was evicted from the Australian cycling team due to a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by fellow tandem cyclist Lyn Lepore, on the grounds that she deserved her place in the team because when each of Modra's pilot–rider combinations was counted separately, she had a higher rank than Modra. The day before the opening ceremony, the Australian Paralympic Committee successfully appealed to the International Paralympic Committee to give Modra an extra place in the team.
At the 2004 games, he won two gold medals, in the Men's Individual Pursuit Tandem B1–3 event, in which he broke a world record with a time of 4:21.451, and the Men's Sprint Tandem B1–3 event, and a bronze medal in the Men's Road Race / Time Trial Tandem B1–3 event. In the second of the three races in the individual sprint semi-final, Modra and Short fell off their bike after its front tyre rolled off the wheel. Despite having skin torn off their arms, legs and shoulders in the fall, they won the third semi-final race and rode in the final 45 minutes later, where they won the gold medal.
He broke his own world record in the preliminary round of the individual pursuit (B&VI 1–3) with a time of 4:18.961, piloted by Lawrence, they broke the record again in the final with a time of 4:18.166.
In 2011 Modra made a return to the bike with new pilot Scott McPhee where they won gold in the tandem B&VI 4 km pursuit at the 2011 Montichiari UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships setting a new world record of 4:17.780. They placed 2nd at the Sydney road world cup in the tandem road race and 3rd in the tandem road time trial at the 2011 Segovia world cup. In the lead up to the road world championships in September Modra suffered a broken collarbone and fractured hip due to a fall in training. His recovery was swift and he returned to the bike a month later to win the Oceania 4 km pursuit championship. In December 2011, he collided with a car while cycling to work, breaking two vertebrae in his neck and one in his spine; this accident hampered his preparations for the 2012 London Games. He won a gold medal at the games in the Men's Individual Pursuit B with McPhee.
At the 2014 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico, he teamed with pilot Jason Niblett to win the silver medals in the Men's Sprint B and Men's B 1 km Time Trial. With pilot Jason Niblett, he won two silver medals in the Men's tandem sprint B and Men's tandem time trial at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. At the 2016 Montichiari UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Modra won gold with pilot David Edwards in the Men's Tandem 4 km Pursuit.
At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, Modra and his pilot David Edwards won the bronze medal in the Men's Road Time Trial B. His other results were sixth in the Men's Individual Pursuit B and fifth in the Men's Road Race B.
Modra died after he was hit by a car travelling in the same direction on the Sturt Highway in Kingsford on 13 November 2019. He was cycling from Gawler to his uncle and aunt's house near Tanunda to join a ride with them in the Clare Valley.
Modra received the following awards:
- 1997: Medal of the Order of Australia
- 2000: Australian Sports Medal
- 2004: Australian Male Paralympian of the Year
- 2011: South Australian Institute of Sport Athlete with a Disability of the Year with Scott McPhee.
- 2014: Appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Australia Day Honours "For significant service to sport as an athlete representing Australia at Paralympic Games, and to people who are blind or have low vision"
- 2014: South Australian Institute of Sport Male Athlete with a Disability of the Year with Jason Niblett
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kieran Modra.|
- Kieran Modra at the International Paralympic Committee
- Kieran Modra at Paralympics Australia
- Kieran Modra AM at Cycling Australia at the Wayback Machine (archived 26 March 2016)
- Kieran Modra interviewed by Rob Willis in the Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies oral history project, National Library of Australia, 2013