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Paralympian told she can’t compete in Beijing

Brenna Huckaby holding a snowboard
Brenna Huckaby holding a snowboard Image credit: paralympic.org

A Paralympian has been told she may not be eligible to participate in Beijing because her disability class no longer exists in the games.

Brenna Huckaby won two golds in PyeongChang for snowboard cross and banked slalom, her next goal was to qualify for Beijing but the Paralympic committee scrapped the sports because there were not enough women with her level of disability to compete.

But there seemed to be some good news on the horizon when the 25-year-old athlete was told she could register for an alternative class.

However, new rules have now meant Huckaby is unable to take part in any of the sports in the next Olympics.

Sharing her frustration on social media Huckaby tweeted: '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.

'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.’

Huckaby went on to explain having a severe disability has hindered her chances competing in Beijing.

'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.'

In 2018 she was classified in the SB-LL1 category for athletes with 'significant impairment to one leg, such as amputation above the knee', or have a 'significant combined impairment in two legs'.

But the category has been scrapped for the 2022 Games because there was not enough athletes to compete.

She hoped there would be a second option racing against athlete with less severe disabilities, but sadly that did not transpire.

Huckaby told MailOnline: '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.

'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.'

Although when released the Beijing rulebook ‘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,' Huckaby explained.

'When it comes to its flagship event, the @Paralympics, my disability is the reason I’m excluded,' she said in a post.

'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.'

Huckaby followed up her post with a video where she says:  'I'm not allowed to compete in the Paralympics because I'm "too disabled" so that's really fun.' 

Her posts have seen Huckaby gain support from fellow athletes.

Volleyball Paralympian Katie Holloway Bridge replied: ‘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.'

Snowboarder Amy Purdy, who is also in the same class as Huckaby — LL1 (Lower Limb Impairment) — said: '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.

'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.’

Purdy continued: '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.'

American snowboarder Kina Clay competes in the SB-UL — or female snowboarders with an upper-limb impairment — a class which has also been left out of Beijing.

Clay told Forbes:  '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.’

Kina Clay has launched a petition to have the Women’s Snowboard class included in the 2022 Paralympic Games.