Sports Illustrated swim issue features its first Paralympian in sexy photo shoot

Maggie Parker
Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby poses for a portrait during the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on Sept. 27, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo: Getty Images)
Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby poses for a portrait during the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on Sept. 27, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo: Getty Images)

Brenna Huckaby is a pro snowboarder and an amputee, and now she’s also a Sports Illustrated model. The athlete is making her debut and making history as the first Paralympian to appear in the magazine’s swimsuit issue.

Sports Illustrated made the announcement Tuesday on Instagram with a video of Huckaby at her photo shoot. She described being the first Paralympian to be included in the magazine usually filled with models as “insane.”

The 22-year-old also recalled getting the offer. “I was in Europe, and I looked at my phone and was like, what is this long text?” she began. “And it was, ‘Sports Illustrated wants you in their swim edition.’ I was probably smiling and freaking out until I got to Aruba,” which is where the shoot took place.

In the images, she’s seen in multiple bathing suits, including a shiny black one-shoulder Kai Lani one-piece. As she poses on the beach in a strappy Wet Swimwear black bikini, her purple hair blows in the wind, and her prosthetic leg is propped up in the sand. In another photo, she power-poses in a silver futuristic Divamp Couture two-piece.

The World Championship gold medalist was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer, when she was 14. “When I began chemotherapy, everything was OK, but then my body started taking a turn,” she told NBC in an interview. “My tumor ate the chemotherapy like food, and the mass grew from a golf ball to a softball. I was told there was no other choice but amputation if I wanted to live. I cut my leg off and began more chemo, different drugs, and my body again didn’t respond. I am now at risk for leukemia. We stopped chemo way before my treatment was over, so every day is a worry that it will come back.” That hasn’t stopped her from competing, as she now holds three world titles.

Originally a gymnast like her fellow Olympian and swimsuit issue model Aly Raisman, Huckaby found snowboarding after her surgery and started competing in 2013 while training at the National Ability Center in Utah, according to her Team USA profile. She’ll be competing in the 2018 Paralympics in March and hopes to add another accomplishment to her long list: double golds. “I know I can get them. I have proven [to] myself time and time [again] I have what it takes to podium in the top tier. Now I just need to make it happen.”

But it’s not as if appearing in the SI swimsuit issue isn’t also a major achievement. “I hope women feel empowered by it,” she said of her spread in an interview with the magazine behind it. “Everyone should feel sexy. It doesn’t matter what your body looks like — when you feel good in your skin, it shows. Let me tell you, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t feel good in your own skin!” She thinks her inclusion in the magazine will send an important message for disabled women in particular. “It’s very rare, if ever, you see a woman with a disability pose in sexy swimsuits. I want to help change the stigma behind disabilities. I want other women, regardless of their body, to know they are powerful and sexy.”

Huckaby, who was uncomfortable taking off her prosthetic in front of anyone as a teen, also hopes it empowers her 17-month-old daughter. “When she’s older, I hope she is also inspired, motivated, and empowered by my swimsuit shots,” she said. “I hope she’ll know the courage it took for me to pose in a swimsuit, and I hope that motivates her to step out of her comfort zone.”

It certainly taught Huckaby something about being sexy. “I have never seen myself as sexy, and it wasn’t until Lilah, my daughter, was born that I was comfortable wearing my swimsuit without shorts!” She said that was the moment she knew her body was “a strong and forceful tool that takes me from experience to experience. Once I realized this, I finally loved my body.”

The bold beauty also shared a photo from the shoot on her Instagram page, with a lengthy caption describing how the “shoot wasn’t easy (not just physically) but mentally,” because she had to see herself as sexy.

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has been making waves over the last few years, from putting a plus-size model on the cover for the first time to casting the third black cover girl to now featuring their first Paralympian.

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