Cancer took most of Brenna Huckaby’s right leg when she was a teenager.
Nothing can take away her golden moment Monday in the Paralympics.
The Baton Rouge native, now a resident of Millcreek, Utah, got her first Paralympic games off to a smashing start with a gold medal in women’s snowboarding cross in Pyeongchang, South Korea, site of the recently completed Winter Olympics.
Fellow American Amy Purdy, who earned a bronze medal in this event in the 2014 Sochi Games, took the silver.
“I can’t put it into words,” Huckaby said. “I felt so much love after I crossed the finish line and heard the cheering from the crowd. I feel relieved because I’ve worked so hard for this for so long and it paid off. It just feels really good.
“Things happen in life and can get you down, but it’s how you respond to it. Always come back fighting and come back stronger.”
A three-time world champion, Huckaby, 22, took a break from the sport two years ago to give birth to her daughter, Lilah. Huckaby just returned to the sport in late August.
“In the start gate I said to myself, ‘For Lilah’, because that is one of the main reasons ... and pushing through trying times to show her that she can do anything that she wants,” Huckaby said. “It was hard today, but I just reminded myself why I do this and it’s for her and that helped.”
Despite her previous success in the sport, Huckaby said she had to overcome her nerves before the final.
“My main focus was to make this like any other race,” she said. “When I came out here this morning and saw the set-up and the people in the stands, I panicked. It was really frustrating because I wanted to maintain that positive energy and this morning (in qualifiers), it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. To be able to turn it around and come back stronger is something I can’t even put into words. I’m so happy and honestly, so relieved.”
A gymnast growing up, Huckaby was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2010 while a student at St. Michael the Archangel High School. Her right leg had to be amputated just above the knee. A month after the surgery, Huckaby got her first prosthetic leg.
Within a year, she was skiing for the first time on a trip arranged by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. By 2013 she was training in snowboarding in Utah.
“I hadn’t even seen a real mountain with snow on it,” Huckaby told The Advocate in an interview in August. “I had never seen a ski resort before I had my amputation. … I just immediately fell in love with it.”
Monday’s race was the first time Huckaby’s mother has seen her compete in person in snowboarding.
“She’s been at every other gymnastics meet of mine growing up,” Huckaby said. “It was hard not ever having her there because she’s one of my biggest fans and supporters. When I saw her after I crossed the finish line and she was jumping up and down, my heart just burst. I was so happy.”
The 2018 Paralympic Games continue through Sunday.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.