Brynn Duncan was nine years old when she tried her first monoski. She recalls that her coaches started her pretty slowly on the bunny hill and stuffed her bucket full of padding – but Brynn immediately felt an incredible rush and excitement. “I still feel that way every time I’m on snow,” she says.
At seven years old, Brynn acquired a spinal cord injury after a severe car accident. She describes the weeks and months immediately following the accident as some of the hardest of her life. “I was really into dance, gymnastics, and figure skating,” she says. “When I found out I was never going to walk again, it felt… soul-crushing.”
But while Brynn recovered in the hospital and began intensive rehab, she remembers her parents receiving some life-changing advice from a family friend: “Make sure you get her into sports!”
At nine years old, Brynn remembers fully re-entering the world of sport. In her time in rehab, she met a wide range of athletes with disabilities. “They were so optimistic, and I didn’t understand it,” she says. But she quickly took to a new roster of adaptive sports – skiing and sled hockey especially. As she rediscovered her own abilities on the hill and in the rink, Brynn says she began regaining her passion and confidence.
Brynn was selected for the USA Women’s National Sled Hockey Team in 2014 , and played around the world from 2014 to 2018 . She’d been training seriously for a number of years already, but as she puts it, “the national team is a whole new ball game.” The US team is one of the only all-women sled hockey teams in the country, so they often played against men’s or mixed teams. “I get my tough side from hockey,” Brynn jokes.
When she wasn’t training in the rink, Brynn found herself drawn to competition on the ski hill as well. She started skiing when she was nine years old for just a few days a year, but was encouraged by a favorite sled hockey coach to attend Race Camp at the Hartford Ski Spectacular. In her first year, Brynn saw a girl doing a slalom run in a monoski. “She was killing it,” Brynn says. “I saw her and just thought, I’m going to do that.”
And “do that,” Brynn did. After three years attending Ski Spec, Brynn joined a team based in Colorado to train in mono ski racing. “I get a huge adrenaline rush from skiing,” Brynn says. She emphasizes that you never know what’s going to happen out on the snow, and you can only control so much. “That’s [tough], but so awesome at the same time,” she says.
At one point, Brynn was aiming for the 2022 Paralympics but has stepped away competing. “I’m not racing anymore,” she said. “Just doing the more recreational side of things. I decided to shift my focus more on school and I needed to focus more on my faith. Racing took all my time and left room for little else.” She hopes to become a social worker to provide access and opportunities to children with disabilities.
Brynn’s parting advice to anyone considering getting involved in adaptive sports? “Try anything and everything that you can.” There’s a whole lot out there to get after.