Brenna Huckaby competes in the women's snowboard cross SB-LL2 qualification round during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 06, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Paralympic gold medalist Brenna Huckaby used to revel in the fact that snowboarding made it look like she still had two legs.
On the mountain she could hide. Up there she didn’t have to be Brenna the cancer patient, or Brenna the ex-competitive gymnast whose life turned upside down over the course of a school year when what she initially thought was knee pain turned out to be osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer.
Ski pants covered her prosthetic, allowing her to be Brenna the snowboarder rather than Brenna the 15-year-old amputee.
“At that point in my journey that was so important to me,” she said, “because I felt free from my disability.”
Today Huckaby has embraced her body and her prosthetic. At this month’s Para snowboarding world championships in La Molina, Spain, where she won gold in dual banked slalom, silver in snowboardcross and bronze in women’s banked slalom team, Huckaby competed with her right pant leg hiked up and the sun glinting off her exposed metal leg.
She’s not hiding anything anymore; in fact, she wants you to see it.
Already a body-positive athlete, it took Huckaby a long time to extend the same mentality to her prosthetic.
“I’ve worked through so much, and for whatever reason, being in my snowboard gear and showing my prosthetic made me insecure,” Huckaby said. “It was a way for me to hide my disability instead of owning it and honoring it, which is what I’m choosing to do now.”
Snowboarding was always therapeutic for Huckaby, who grew up in Louisiana and had never strapped on a snowboard before a rehabilitation ski trip to Utah organized by her hospital. The goal was to show patients that “if you could ski down a mountain, then you could go home and wear your prosthetic, and make yourself a sandwich,” Huckaby said.
Huckaby suspected that snowboarding might be like being on a balance beam. Learning to board, then, was akin to reclaiming something of her old, pre-cancer self.
“If I could just have a little piece of my life back, I’d feel all will be right with the world,” she recalls thinking.
“There were definitely moments of wallowing” in the weeks and months after her leg was amputated above the knee, she added.
“I think it’s healthy to be set back from something like cancer or amputation or disability,” Huckaby said. “But I think two things really helped me get out of it: one, I’m a very competitive person by nature, and my family after cancer when I was on the couch, unable to move on with my life, they told me, ‘Brenna, the longer that you sit on this couch and not do anything, the more cancer is beating you, the more cancer is winning.
“You beat the physical battle, but it’s still winning in other ways.’ And for me that was enough that it was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’”