‘I’m “too disabled” to compete in the Paralympics’: Amputee gold medalist snowboarder slams Beijing organizers after her disability class was CUT from 2022 Games – and she was barred from competing against those with a lesser disability
Brenna Huckaby, 25, earned two gold medals in PyeongChang, for snowboard cross and banked slalom, and she was training to defend her titles in Beijing this March — until the Paralympic committee announced that there weren’t enough women with her level of disability participating and axed her events altogether.
Yet Huckaby was told that she could still compete in a different class, so she trained even harder to make the cut against women who are less disabled than she — and did so with flying colors.
But now Huckaby says that recently-released rules have deemed her ineligible to compete that way, either, and she is taking to social media to fight for her inclusion.
A Paralympic snowboarder who won gold at the 2018 Winter Paralympics is fighting for the chance to compete in Beijing this year after her disability class was cut
Brenna Huckaby, 25, earned two gold medals in PyeongChang, for snowboard cross and banked slalom, and she was training to defend her titles in Beijing this March
Huckaby, who was also the first Paralympian to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, shared her story on Instagram on Saturday.
She had just come off of winning her fourth world title, but said the victory was spoiled because of bad news about the Paralympics.
‘As I woke up today, I couldn’t help but think of this win as bittersweet since I currently do not have the opportunity to defend my Paralympic Gold Medals or this World Title at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics,’ she wrote.
She went onto explain how her events got cut because there weren’t enough competitors with her same level of disability.
‘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,’ she said.
‘As an above-the-knee amputee, I compete in the most impaired class in Parasnowboarding.
‘When my class did not have enough participation, the International Paralympic Committee removed our medal events from Beijing,’ she said.
The Paralympic committee announced that there weren’t enough women with her level of disability participating and axed her events altogether
However, she was told that she would be able to compete in a lesser-disabled class – and after training, she qualified, beating out other athletes
But 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,’ she said
In 2018, Brenna was classified in the SB-LL1 category, which is for those athletes with ‘significant impairment to one leg, such as amputation above the knee’, or for those competitors who have a ‘significant combined impairment in two legs’.
Although this classification was included in the previous Winter Paralympics, it has been cut from the 2022 Games because of a lack of athletes planning to compete.
Brenna did, however, think there was another option: competing against less-impaired athletes, which would likely prove more challenging but would at least give her a chance to participate.
‘Not all hope was lost as I was told that my class could compete in the less impaired class’ events at the Games aka “competing up,”’ she explained.
‘I was excited for this opportunity, and when I participated within the harder class, I earned podium finishes — proving I was more than capable despite my disability.’
But 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.’
‘This news came as a shock to everyone. Why was this decision made? That’s a great question, and I still haven’t been given a lucid answer — or any answer at all,’ she said.
‘This news came as a shock to everyone. Why was this decision made? That’s a great question, and I still haven’t been given a lucid answer,’ she said
Huckaby said she has long been a ‘proud advocate for the Paralympic Movement, which is supposed to be the leader of diversity & inclusion’
‘Despite everything, I still dream of competing for @teamusa at the Paralympics,’ she said
Huckaby said she has long been a ‘proud advocate for the Paralympic Movement, which is supposed to be the leader of diversity & inclusion’ — but this year, they don’t appear to be advocating for her.
‘When it comes to its flagship event, the @Paralympics, my disability is the reason I’m excluded,’ she said.
‘I have done everything I can to confirm my eligibility for Beijing. I have fought with petitions, submissions & legal action. I fought by earning podium finishes in the harder class. I fought by winning a World Title, proving I deserve the opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage. And now I am fighting by speaking out.
‘Despite everything, I still dream of competing for @teamusa at the Paralympics. I hope that in speaking out, my story can pave the way for an even more inclusive and representative Paralympic Games, & society, moving forward.’
In a follow-up video, Brenna summed up her confusion and frustration over her rejection from the upcoming Winter Games, saying: ‘I’m not allowed to compete in the Paralympics because I’m “too disabled” so that’s really fun.’
Huckaby’s posts have earned the attention of other athletes who have shown their support.
Jessie Diggins, an American cross-country skier who won gold at Pyeongchang in 2018, wrote: ‘This isn’t right.’
She said she has ‘fought with petitions, submissions & legal action’ and is now hoping social media attention will make a difference
Volleyball player Katie Holloway Bridge, who won gold at the Tokyo Paralympics, chimed in: Super support this post! Use your voice, use your platform. One of the only ways change is going to happen is by bringing it to light in the media. Our system just does not have it figured out yet and I hope it does soon for you.’
Paralympic skiier Tyler TC Carter added: ‘While we have made progress with the Paralympics there’s still a lot left to do. Awesome job and proud of you!’
Snowboarded Amy Purdy, who won bronze and silver in the Paralympics, shared her own lengthy post of support.
Purdy is in the same class as Huckaby — LL1 (Lower Limb Impairment) — and was disappointed to see it eliminated this year.
‘Some of the best moments of my life have been competing in the Paralympic Games. I was thrilled to be part of the group that helped get Para Snowboarding into the 2014 Games. We competed for years when nobody was watching in order to make it to the global stage,’ she said.
‘However, my class of women LL1 (Lower Limb Impairment) has now been eliminated from the upcoming Beijing Paralympic Games due to lack of participation. As someone who fought for women in this sport, this is heartbreaking.
Snowboarded Amy Purdy, who won bronze and silver in the Paralympics, shared her own lengthy post of support
Purdy is in the same class as Huckaby – LL1 (Lower Limb Impairment) – and was disappointed to see it eliminated this year (pictured at a 2013 training session)
‘There are two women in my class who have continued to compete at the highest level, Brenna Huckaby and Cecile Hernandez, who deserve to compete & defend their medals in the upcoming Games,’ she went on.
‘However, currently they do not have a class to compete in,’ she said, urging the IPC to allow them to compete in the LL2 class of ‘lesser disabled’ women.
‘This is how I competed in the 2014 Games (the classes were combined), it worked beautifully but so far that too has been rejected,’ she said.
‘I am a huge supporter of the Paralympic movement, inclusion & Women in Sport and believe this ruling needs to be updated in order to promote more representation & participation in the Paralympic Games.’
Meanwhile, American snowboarder Kiana Clay also saw her event cut this year and is fighting to be included.
Clay competes in the SB-UL — or female snowboarders with an upper-limb impairment — class, which was also cut due to lack of participation.
Meanwhile, American snowboard Kiana Clay also saw her event cut this year and is fighting to be included
Clay competes in the SB-UL – or female snowboarders with an upper-limb impairment – class, which was also cut due to lack of participation
She has since started a petition to have her class included.
‘I know I am one of many women in this category that have sacrificed so much for the dream to represent my country proudly at the Paralympic Games,’ she wrote.
‘I believe we can get enough attention to revert the decision that was made, and help push for women of all disabilities to compete. The more diversity we have, the more the next generation of girls out there will want to be a part of it.’
Speaking to Forbes, she added: ‘I’m really just trying to be the voice of adding this new category and creating more opportunities not only for upper-limb women, but adaptive sports in general.
‘I just remember being that little girl with an upper-limb disability wondering if certain things were possible, and I don’t want a little girl watching the Paralympics and not seeing her category represented and making her feel that she doesn’t have a place in this world or have her feel that she’s not capable of doing something because she has an upper-limb disability. That’s kind of my main goal,’ she said.