Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby traded in Utah's snow-covered mountains for a sandy beach in Aruba for a spread in the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But while the scenery was a drastic change for the world champion (who is set to compete in the Paralympic Games in PyeongChang next month), a constant that remains in Huckaby's life is her ability to break through barriers. And her Sports Illustrated debut is another example of that.
The 22-year-old is the first amputee to ever be featured in the coveted swimsuit issue, and Huckaby says she is overjoyed by the outpour of support she's already received from other women with disabilities.
"[The response has] been extremely positive and uplifting, which I was hoping for,"she tells Cosmopolitan.com. "Before doing the shoot, I thought, 'Holy cow, I'm opening myself up for a lot of good, but potentially also a lot of bad.' I wanted it to be done right. I wanted to represent women with disabilities the right way."
Huckaby says one woman's message in particular has stood out because of how much she related to the obstacles she's had to overcome. "If I had seen these pictures when I was younger, that would've made [such a] difference in my recovery after cancer," Huckaby says the woman told her. "Just hearing that made the shoot that much more worth it."
In 2010, Huckaby was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer—a diagnosis that, due to complications, forced doctors to amputate her right leg. She was only a freshman in high school, and describes that time in her life as her "lowest of low." During her junior year, she moved to Utah from Louisiana, where the former gymnast took up snowboarding as a way to get back into sports, and the rest is history.
For Cosmopolitan.com, she opens up about how she overcame her struggles with body image and self-confidence after her amputation, dating and motherhood.
Happiness became a priority during her recovery.
I started going to the gym and that slowly started to help me build my confidence, because I could walk [with the help of my prosthetic]. That may not sound like much, but I tried to find things that I could enjoy. I started to surround myself with people that made me feel good. That wasn't easy, but you have to feel good [within yourself] in order to find other people that can make you feel good.
And dating gave her a sense of normalcy.
I had my eyes set on a football player in high school. He started to give me attention. As much of a douche as he turned out to be, he definitely helped me a lot. He helped me feel good. He got me roses! Dating him gave me a sense of confidence because he was a popular football player. To have somebody show that much of an interest in me - it made me feel good. It made me feel normal.
She shared a vulnerable moment with her fiancé.
He was the first person that I ever took my prosthetic off in front of. He was incredibly supportive and was asking questions. It's so different when it's genuine questions versus just trying to fill dead air.
He's played such a huge role in me breaking out and feeling comfortable with myself. He reassures me and helps push me out of my comfort zone. He plays such a huge role in letting me know that I don't need my prosthetic to be who I am.
Giving birth gave her a newfound appreciation for her body.
It took having my daughter [Lilah] for me to realize that I'm a—to realize how amazing of a person I am inside that it doesn't matter what I look like outside. I know that I'm so much stronger than my body.
Her advice for other amputees and women with disabilities:
Know that you're a force. To sit back and let an amputation try and stop your life—you just can't. My advice would be to remember who you are within and that your body is a tool. Don't be afraid to push yourself and get yourself out there.