Paralympic Snowboarder Brenna Huckaby poses during a Team USA Media Summit in 2017.
Brenna Huckaby was just fourteen when she lost her right leg to cancer. It was on a rehab ski trip in Park City, Utah where Huckaby was first introduced to snowboarding, and immediately fell in love. She left her hometown of Baton Rouge, La. for Utah so she could continue to pursue her new-found love for the slopes. She admits that it wasn’t about becoming a Paralympian until a few years into competing. It was upon that realization that her career really took off.
She earned her first World Championship medal in 2015, where she finished with a silver medal in the banked slalom. Two years later (and after the birth of her first daughter) she left the 2017 World Championships with two medals in hand, this time both gold.
As Huckaby continued to gain attention in the snowboarding world, her notoriety extended outside of the Paralympic world as well. In early 2018, she received an invite to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the first Paralympic athlete to be featured. She admits that when first offered the opportunity, she was nervous.
“It doesn’t really fit my personality, if you were to know me. When I got selected I was like ‘Okay, is this even a good idea? Does this match who I am?’ ”
But all it really took was a step back for Huckaby to realize how important of an opportunity it was - “I really got to thinking about the future and how underrepresented women with disabilities AND Paralympians are and it was like - of course I’m going to do this.”
She reflects back on the experience as an important and empowering one. However, she hopes it doesn’t stop with her. She wants to be the first of many women with a disability to be featured in the issue.
A few short months later, Huckaby added another “first” to her list of accomplishments. Her two gold medals at the Paralympic Games 2018 Pyeongchang were the first won by an American woman in Para Snowboarding.
“You visualize it and you see yourself winning gold for years before it actually happens, so when it does happen … it felt like it had already happened before. It felt so good and natural and meant to be,” said Huckaby. She smiled, admitting she can’t wait to feel that feeling again.
Since the 2018 Games, Huckaby’s life has been anything but routine. Her family of three recently grew to a family of four with the birth of her daughter Sloan earlier this year.
“Having two [kids] has been a lot harder than having one, which was a lot harder than having none,” she laughed. Huckaby’s training schedule has had to adjust to life with two young girls, which often means very early mornings or very late nights.
“But honestly, they’re my biggest motivation. Everything I do is for them. And that makes it easy - knowing that I have my two kiddos looking up at me and seeing what I’m doing. It’s more about all of us and less about just me and I love that.”
As she juggles training for the 2022 Winter Games as well as spending time with her family during quarantine, she’s also finished up her associate’s degree and is set to begin her Special Education program. Huckaby has dreamt of becoming a special education teacher since she was in high school, but often felt hesitant to enter the field because of various issues she saw within the schooling system. But now, her perspective has changed.
“As I’ve grown as a person and educated myself about the world, I’m like ‘well, why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t I become a teacher, live it, and put myself in a position to make the changes that I want to see,” Huckaby said.
Huckaby will start her education program soon with the hopes of continuing down the path following the 2022 Beijing Games. She admits that she’s taking every decision one step at a time - especially with life’s recent curveballs - and will spend time after the next Winter Games determining her next move. Obtaining her degree puts her in a spot where she can be successful regardless if she decides to continue competing or start working towards her other life goals.
For now, Huckaby continues to advocate for representation and recognition for Paralympic athletes and individuals with a disability alike. Her social platforms and YouTube channel have become places for open and honest discussion about her experiences as a cancer survivor, as an amputee and as a mom.
As Paralympic sports continue to grow, Huckaby knows that as long as people are willing to watch, they’ll quickly become fans of the Paralympic Movement.
“It feels like a no brainer. Paralympic sports are SO cool. We’re doing Olympic sports with missing body parts or body functions. Once people see it, they’re like ‘How did I not know about this before?’ ”