Photo by Natasja Vos Photography

Game changer: Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby’s fight to compete in Beijing

This winter, in a much-played Olympics commercial, Visa drew the attention from the finish to the start. “Everyone celebrates the finish line,” the voiceover said. “But what about the starting line?” 

This sentiment speaks to the journey of no athlete more than that of Baton Rouge native and Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby. But it wasn’t her leg, which was amputated following a rare bone cancer diagnosis when she was 14, or her own ambition that was holding her back from competing in her second Paralympics (she is a two-time gold medalist from the 2018 games in PyeongChang). Rather, it was the International Paralympic Committee itself, which eliminated her division—aka above-the-knee amputees—due to lack of participation.

“Paralympic sports are separated into classes based on the severity of impairment, which helps to ensure that more impaired athletes aren’t unfairly competing against less impaired athletes,” Huckaby wrote on her Instagram in January. “I was told that my class could compete in the less impaired class’s events at the Games, aka ‘competing up’ … However, when the formal rulebook for Beijing was released, it provided no option to compete up and as such, no way for me to compete at all.”

But Huckaby isn’t one to just accept something that stands between her and her dream. After petitions and a failed appeal to the International Paralympic Committee, she took her case to a German court for one final plea. The 26-year-old’s quest went viral, with fans and fellow Olympians posting support with the hashtag #LetBrennaCompete. After weeks of waiting, she got her answer at the end of January.

“Beijing 2022, here I come,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is a big win for disability inclusion, but there is always more work to be done.”

And as Huckaby makes her way to China for the Paralympic Games, which start on March 4, she’s looking to not only defend her gold, but to continue to pave the way for amputees, snowboarders and Louisianans.

“Things are going to get you down in life. That’s pretty much inevitable,” Huckaby told inRegister in our cover story back in February 2018, just before her first Paralympic appearance in South Korea. “But you can’t change what’s happening—you can only change how you respond. I just want people to know that if you keep going and keep your head up, it will get better.”