Ex-gymnast’s ‘new normal’
Sixteen-year-old Brenna Huckaby was an aspiring gymnast before she was diagnosed with a cancerous malignant bone tumor in her leg two years ago.
The St. Michael High School junior had once earned titles in all-around and individual gymnastics events on the state, regional and national level, said Kristie Huckaby, her mother.
“Bars was my favorite, but everyone said I was best on the beam,” Brenna said.
Her dreams to continue competing were dashed after she underwent chemotherapy and later surgery to amputate her leg as a result of osteosarcoma, a cancerous condition that sometimes develops during the rapid growth period in adolescents, Kristie Huckaby said.
Brenna now wears a prosthetic leg and is searching for her “new normal,” all while maintaining her upbeat and optimistic attitude in face of her new challenges, she said.
“I realized this is my life. … My leg is not growing back and I am rolling with the new me. I realize and I want others to see that people like me are more than our handicaps,” Brenna said.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and several sponsors made another dream come true for Brenna in August when she attended the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
There, she watched the American gymnastics team win the gold medal. “I still can’t believe I actually got to go and see it in person,” she said. “We were on the edge of our seats even though USA came out on top.”
Brenna also met her idol, 2008 USA Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Nastia Liukin, who ended her gymnastics career this year after suffering injuries during the 2012 Olympic
“She and I really related and connected through that common bond of going from always being in the gym to not having that. Nastia has retired and I have not competed since my amputation. … Our lives are very similar in this way … trying to find our new normal.” Brenna said.
Brenna said her condition never dimmed her outlook or her interest in trying other sports. Last year, she learned how to snowboard following an MD Anderson-sponsored ski trip in Utah for amputees and other disabled people.
She plans to train and compete for the snowboarding competition in the 2018 Paralympics, she said.
“That freeing feel of flying through the air that you get with snowboarding is very similar to what I loved about gymnastics,” she said. “God put me on that ski trip to show me, ‘you can compete again. This is what you can do.’”
Brenna also continued to keep up her studies during her illness while being home-schooled. She is attending classes again at St. Michael’s this year.
“I would tell others not to give up. … A positive attitude is super important,” she said. “Even my doctors said that my positive attitude was a key to my success.”
She plans to one day attend medical school and become an orthopedist.
“After all she has been through, she now feels like she has a lot to offer the sick. She’s been in their shoes and she feels that she can really personally relate to patients,” said her mother, Kristie Huckaby.
Brenna has no plans to back down either.
“Cancer has changed my life completely in every single way possible. I feel like I am a better person now and have become stronger in my faith. I appreciate every day and live for each and every day, trying not to dwell on the little things.”
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer
for The Advocate. She can be reached at email@example.com