Paralympian Brenna Huckaby wins bronze after a legal fight to compete in the games
Updated March 7, 2022 at 1:41 AM ET
It took a last-minute injunction- and then two nail biter races - for Brenna Huckaby to medal in the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Winter Games. Huckaby won bronze in snowboard cross on Monday, after surviving a crash in the medal race and a come-from-behind, games-saving second place in the semifinal race.
She finished third after colliding with Dutch rider Lisa Bunschoten, who screamed in frustration after the crash forced her off the course. All Huckaby had to do was finish to win a place on the podium.
The preceding race was no less dramatic. Huckaby was riding in last place after struggling to get over an early obstacle. She was so far behind, the camera operators failed to follow her. And as Bunschoten crossed the line first in that race, Huckaby snuck in behind her - racing down the last straightaway ahead of the other two riders.
The announcers hadn't seen her catching up, either.
From gymnastics to snowboarding to the podium
Almost all Olympic and Paralympic athletes have stories of perseverance and bravery.
Huckaby is not shy about sharing hers.
She's 26, a mom to two girls and a two-time gold medalist in snowboarding who made her Paralympic debut during the Pyeongchang games – just four years after she started competing.
Huckaby's right leg was amputated above the knee when she was a teenager because of bone cancer. Before her amputation, she was a competitive gymnast, but going back to the sport after was "nearly impossible."
A trip to Utah gave her a chance to get back her athletic life.
"I knew that if I could just try the snowboard it would give me a piece of my life back that I had before cancer and amputation because it reminded me of a balance beam, and I really, really wanted to feel that again," Huckaby said.
A year after that first snowboarding trip, Huckaby moved to Utah to snowboard full-time.
From there she began competing and ultimately went on to win gold in the snowboard cross and banked slalom events in 2018.
She had to go to court to compete
As the 2022 games came around Brenna expected to defend her titles, but instead she found herself having to petition to even compete.
The International Paralympic Committee decided there weren't enough women in Huckaby's classification and that she wouldn't be able to compete with others who have less severe leg impairments. Essentially, the governing body was saying she was too disabled to compete.
"I felt like it was completely wrong for me to be locked out of the competition, and so I fought hard," she said.
"The IPC continued to say, no, you can't compete without giving me a valid reason."
In December, she filed an injunction with a German court.
Then, Huckaby went public with her petition on Instagram and TikTok, sharing what had been a silent battle with her fans and fellow professional athletes who rallied around her.
"It felt like I could go further in my fight. It also solidified the fact that what I was going through was wrong and just knowing that I wasn't alone in my feelings," she said. "It was so relieving."
The court's decision came in January, ruling in her favor and giving her a pathway to put all the training she had done into action.
Not all of that training is physical
When she won her medals in 2018, Huckaby said she was under a lot of pressure that she had put on herself and that the "good feeling was fleeting."
Going into the Beijing Games, she said she focused much more on her mental training.
"I've definitely taken a lot more time to just understand that my worth is not wrapped up in a medal," she said. "For the last four years, I've been working on just valuing myself as a person, as an athlete outside of my accomplishments and outside of what I can do on my snowboard."
The time around Huckaby said she wanted to prove to herself that she can be both a strong athlete and a person with a healthy mental mindset.
"You can still do amazing, but also still love yourself and know your worth. And, you know, just be OK with where you're at, but you can still win," she said.
Peter Granitz contributed to this report. contributed to this story
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.