Whether it’s a gold medal race on the slopes of South Korea or a swimsuit photo shoot on the sandy beaches of Aruba, Brenna Huckaby wants the world to know she won’t be intimidated.
She wants you to know the cancer that took her leg as a teenager did not take her life.
So, in the past six months, the 22-year-old Millcreek woman has gotten engaged at the top of Snowbird’s Hidden Peak, become the first Paralympian to pose for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and is now looking to grab a medal or two as she competes in this month’s Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
“We work just as hard as the Olympians,” said Huckaby, a champion snowboarder who will compete in the banked slalom and snowboard-cross events. “We work very hard. We are constantly pushing limits and boundaries. … It’s so cool because you can compare one Games to the next and the level keeps getting pushed further and further. To be a part of that and watch that is really amazing. I don’t know why more people don’t watch it.”
Huckaby, one of eight Utahns who will compete in Pyeongchang, hopes her appearance in Sports Illustrated will help raise the profile of Paralympic athletes and empower people with disabilities.
“It was important because it showed women, or anybody, no matter what, you are powerful, you are strong, you can do whatever you want as long as you’re comfortable in your skin,” she said. “For me, personally, posing in swimsuits that were something I would never wear, it just showed that I have accepted myself to this degree. It was scary, but it was just like a coming out. I love myself. I am strong and I can do whatever I want.”
Huckaby was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2010 and had to have her right leg amputated. Before her diagnosis, the Louisiana native had been a gymnast. When her hospital sent her on a rehabilitation trip to Utah’s National Ability Center, she became a snowboarder.
“After that, I instantly fell in love with the sport of snowboarding and Utah specifically,” she said.
A year after her first visit to the state, Huckaby moved to Utah. She graduated from Jordan High School in 2014.
High school was a difficult time for a teenager with a prosthetic leg, Huckaby said. She said she hoped her Sports Illustrated photo shoot would give some hope to young women who have gone through similarly difficult experiences.
“I can’t really think of many women that have posed at this level for a magazine, TV, whatever, in a sexy and strong way with a disability,” she said. “To be that role model for whoever is going through something [like this] is huge for me. I didn’t have that. I know if I had, that it would have helped my recovery from cancer and amputation so much.”
Coming into Pyeongchang, Huckaby is riding a wave of success on the slopes, too. In 2017, she won gold medals in both snowboard-cross and banked slalom. And Huckaby is looking to add more hardware to her collection as she’s cheered on in South Korea by her fiancé, Tristan Clegg, and her 2-year-old daughter, Lilah.
“The reason I’m doing this is for [my daughter] and to show her that anything is possible no matter what happens to you, as long as you keep going and you’re resilient and you put in hard work,” Huckaby said. “The whole reason I’m doing this is for her. To have her there and hopefully share the podium with her would be really cool.”
Utah’s 2018 Paralympians
Nicole Roundy, snowboarding • At 8 years old, Roundy was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma resulting in the amputation of her right leg above the knee. The Bountiful native is now a two-time Paralympic athlete. The Viewmont High graduate finished in eighth place in snowboard-cross four years ago in Sochi, Russia. Roundy will compete in the banked slalom and snowboard-cross events in Korea.
Keith Gabel, snowboarding • After a 2005 industrial accident crushed his left foot, requiring amputation, Gabel did what he’d been doing for years. The Ogden man got back on his snowboard. It would another six years before Gabel found out about competitive para-snowboarding and began training for the Paralympics. Gabel won bronze in snowboard-cross during his first Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. He will compete in that event as well as the banked slalom in his second Games.
Brenna Huckaby, snowboarding • A cancer diagnosis in 2010 resulted in the amputation of Huckaby’s right leg. After her surgery, Huckaby moved from Louisiana to Utah, where she graduated from Jordan High School and dedicated herself to becoming a snowboard champion. Huckaby, 22, will compete in banked slalom and snowboard-cross in her first Paralympic Games.
Noah Elliott, snowboarding • Elliott’s left leg had to be amputated after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The Missouri native now lives and trains in Utah. In his first Paralympics, Elliott will compete in snowboard-cross and banked slalom.
Danelle Umstead, Alpine skiing • The Park City woman already has three Paralympic bronze medals to her name and will look for more as she competes in her fourth Games. Umstead is visually impaired, the result of an eye disease that has taken her central vision and caused her to lose her peripheral vision. Umstead skis the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and super combined events.
Rob Umstead, Alpine skiing guide • Visually impaired skier Danelle Umstead was having trouble finding a guide after moving to Utah in 2008. So she turned to her husband. Their match works on the slopes, too, apparently. Rob Umstead helped guide his wife to two bronze medals in Vancouver in 2010 and a bronze in Sochi in 2014.
Sadie DeBaun, Alpine skiing guide • The Park City native is heading to Pyeongchang for her first Paralympic Games. DeBaun, 19, will serve as the guide for visually impaired skier Staci Mannella.
Brandon Powell-Ashby, Alpine skiing guide • The U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal lives in Park City. In Pyeonghcang, the 36-year-old Powell-Ashby will serve as the guide for visually impaired Alpine skier Kevin Burton.