Brenna Huckaby was a nationally ranked gymnast until osteosarcoma took her leg and career when she was only 14. So she made a pivot! Now 22, she’s a world-champion para snowboarder and a 2018 Paralympics hopeful, though her greatest accomplishment (at least as far as she’s concerned!) is getting her 17-month-old toddler, Lilah, out the door with parka, snow boots, and mittens all in place.
First, I learned to reframe my thoughts. For instance, if I see an athlete who’s better than me, I literally rephrase the voice in my head to say what I can do about that rather than what I can’t. Second, I made Google my friend. When I was told there were no one-legged gymnasts, I searched and searched, and by about the third page I found a cheerleader and got in touch with her. It helped so much to talk to her, and we are still friends! Finally, I’m totally okay about lying to myself sometimes. Eventually, it feels true, and I feel better.
“For so long, my life was ‘go to school, go to gymnastics.’ After cancer, it was ‘go to school, go home.’ That’s when I realized how much I’d lost, and my whole family helped me figure out what was next. We tried swimming, soccer, and waterskiing, but I didn’t love anything. Then my hospital sent me on a ski trip, and the minute I strapped on a board, both my mom and I knew I’d found it.”
“When I was training, I met Lilah’s dad, Tristan, who is also a snowboarder. One day, he finally asked me out—and here we are four years later! Doctors had told me I likely couldn’t get pregnant, which was devastating, but about two years ago I was surprised to find out that I was five months along. Sometimes I see everything I have now and it’s like,’Wow!’ I’m obsessed with my family.”
“Lilah started snowboarding before she turned 1—by accident! We took her to Lake Tahoe and planned to carry her up the hill in a backpack, but they wouldn’t let anyone on the lift without a board. So we strapped a little one on her, and she loooved it. Now we have this little tow-rope system you can get for really small kids that allows us to pull her.”
“People say they couldn’t get through what I did, but honestly, it’s natural to keep going. You just do it. My mom helped me to focus on ‘lights,’ like the lights at the end of tunnels, during treatment. I’d envision super-basic stuff, like being a teenager again and, really, just living.”
“I struggled with body image as a teen, and it took losing my leg to realize that my body is so much more than something to look at. I will do everything to teach this to my daughter. A year of struggling—with balance, muscle, my gait—to learn to walk again made me see that my legs weren’t there to be beautiful but to get me from place to place. You feel so much stronger when you look at it that way.”
“Last year when I had to leave Lilah for two and a half weeks, I’d text whoever was with her at the time about every 30 minutes to ask for a picture or a video. Later, my mom admitted that she just took a bunch at once and sent them at intervals. Now I’m getting Lilah used to FaceTime to prepare for the ten days I’ll be competing in March.”
“Last year Lilah’s bibbed snow pants kept riding up to expose her little ankles. Tristan and I had a bunch of those awareness bracelets that said ‘U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team,’ and I slipped two of them over her boots to keep her pants down. We used them all season.”
To learn more about Brenna visit teamusa.org.