BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - How does a teenager from Baton Rouge, Louisiana become a world champion snowboarder? For Brenna Huckaby it took a cancer diagnosis, a bit of luck, and a whole lot of hard work.
Huckaby knows what it means to take life "one step at a time." At age 14 she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a rare bone tumor inside her right knee. Brenna had a decision to make.
"I understood that it was my life or leg, and so immediately, like, ‘Take the leg,' because i have a long life to live, and i'm excited to live it," she said.
A gymnast before the amputation, it was a chance ski trip during rehab at MD Anderson that got her hooked on powder. Huckaby said her balance skills helped ease the learning curve.
"For me it's just a big adrenaline rush, and I am a big adrenaline junkie, and so I love that feeling of just looking down, like, ‘Am I going to survive this?" she explained.
Snowboarding requires a different prosthetic than the one Huckaby normally wears. She describe it as a “bike shock on a post,” and said it's designed to help her catch air and cushion landings. Her day-to-day prosthetic contains a small computer processor that monitors the speed of her walk and adjusts in real time.
In February, 19-year-old Huckaby sped to her first gold medal at world championships in La Molina, Spain in the Women's Cross competition. She now ranks second in the world among female paralympic snowboarders.
"Crossing that finish line and knowing that i was
in front, i just cried," she recalled. "I was just so happy, because it was my first gold medal and my first medal that really counted, which was at world championships."
When she's not showing off her new hardware, Huckaby works with the Sunshine Kids Foundation, lifting the spirits of young cancer patients. Her attitude and energy are contagious.
"Hey, you can get through this, you can do whatever you need to do, you can do whatever you want to do, and I'm your example," she tells her kids.
Huckaby eventually moved to Utah to be close to snow, but the off-season brings her home to south Louisiana. As one of the youngest competitors in her field, she won't be resting for long. The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea will be her first shot at Olympic gold.
"It's a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure because for me, I obviously represent the country, but I represent people that have been in the same place as me, and they're trying to overcome things, so i want to be the best I can be," she said.