The Paralympian and World Champion uses her powerhouse body as a tool, but the real power lies in her voice.
Brenna Huckaby feels her strongest when she exercises her voice. For all the ways the international snowboarding star is a powerhouse, her pride lies in creating a platform for others to feel seen, even if she didn’t intend for it to happen that way.
“I never started this journey to be an icon in adaptive sports or body positivity,” Huckaby, who lost her leg in 2010 to a rare form of bone cancer, said in an interview with Tonal. “When I was going through cancer and amputation and journeying into sports, I was always looking for that person to guide me, to be a voice to get me to where I wanted to go. But that pool and that visibility was so small that I just started to feel isolated and alone.”
But Huckaby is not on her own. Not when, with the help of her family, she beat a life-threatening illness and retrained her body to be an athlete again; not when she became a teenage mom with aspirations of international glory; not when she turned those aspirations into two Paralympic gold medals in 2018; and not when she secured a chance to defend her title.
Her story and her willingness to share it have made Huckaby a star. And she has never been shy about detailing her life for fans. Her social pages give an intimate look into her life as an athlete, an amputee, a wife, a mom, and a cancer survivor.
“Luckily, through social media, I started to evolve and realized that with the use of a platform and with the use of a voice, I can be that voice for somebody who doesn’t have it,” she said.
These days, the 27-year-old is confident, accessible, and endlessly motivated. It wasn’t always that way. As a teenager and a survivor, she talked about feeling lost. Huckaby needed to reconstruct the vision she had for herself, saying she had always thought of her body as a tool, but after the amputation and chemotherapy, her body sometimes felt foreign. “I had to relearn how to trust my body again, how to love my body again, and how to just be okay with what my body could do,” she said.
That was before she had ever strapped into a snowboard. In an Instagram post last month Huckaby wrote in the caption: “Snowboarding saved me.”
It started when she discovered snowboarding on a rehabilitation trip to the National Ability Center in Utah when Huckaby was 13. The former gymnast told her mom the snowboard felt like the balance beam. She started competing in 2013 and finished third at her first national championship as an LL1 (a classification for a severe lower leg impairment) athlete a year later. She’s since had two children and modeled in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in 2018.
All this is proof that Huckaby defied the odds and successfully rebuilt her physical strength. But her mindset got an overhaul as well. She learned to accept herself on a deeper level.
“There’s no wrong way to be,” she said. “I bought into this narrative that my body needed to be a certain way so that I could be worthy or enough, deserving of anything in my life,” she said. “And the second I decided to take a refund on that, and say ‘I don’t accept this. I don’t want this,’ was the moment that I started to see myself as more than just my body.”
That level of mental strength doesn’t just magically happen overnight. Competing on the international stage taught her that you can be physically strong and have all the physical training in the world, “but if your mind isn’t strong, if your mind isn’t the best of the best, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
That’s why she trains her mind “ to think about things differently” by reading and listening to podcasts that address mindset and motivation.
“Now, I”m able to live presently. I’m able to see things as opportunities for growth,” she said. “Everything in my world has changed simply by looking at different perspectives.”