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By Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Sheldon
40th Combat Aviation Brigade
For Staff Sgt. Brianna Pritchard, an Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter mechanic from Anchorage, Alaska, it all started with a dream to become an Olympian... and a little bit of genetics.
Staff Sgt. Pritchard’s father was an avid hockey player who had a shot at making it to the professional level had it not been for a skiing injury that limited movement in his legs. She grew up playing hockey and softball. She was aspiring to be a collegiate-level athlete in both sports.
“My father was an incredible hockey player. We always used to watch the movie 'Miracle' about the 1980 hockey team,” said Pritchard. “I have always eyed the Olympics because I thought it was such a high honor. I already loved being an athlete. What better way to represent the USA than to be a professional athlete, so I always wanted to be in the Olympics.”
However, Pritchard’s path to the Olympics is not through a traditional sport. Break dancing was what it was called by the media in the 1980s, but the competitive sport is called breaking.
Breaking is new to the Olympic scene and was officially inducted into the Olympics in December 2020. Since then, United States of America Breaking has been working diligently with the International Olympic Committee and United States of America dance committee to host point-driven competitions to build the team for the Olympics in Paris 2024.
Staff Sgt. Pritchard got into breaking about 14 years ago. Her father did it in high school in the 80s, but he didn’t stick with it because it was more of a fad to him. When she found breaking, she dove in whole-heartedly and gave all her time for it. She gave up sports completely because her passion was breaking.
“When I got into it, I’ve always enjoyed the music. The music we listen to is very instrumental,” said Pritchard. “The music is rhythmic and RPM (revolutions per minute) beats is what we dance to. A lot of the times we dance to instrumental beats, but we still have some old school hip-hop we dance to as well.”
The Alaska native’s parents were a little cautious when she first told them about breaking because of the stigma that surrounded it. They thought it was a “street” thing and she might hang around the wrong crowd. But she ended up meeting people from all over the world and has been able to indulge in many different cultures and learn about different people. At the time they didn’t think it was really positive, but as they saw the great things she was doing and how happy she was with it, her parents became supportive of it.
“My father is always my biggest supporter and cheerleader. He loves everything I do, he loves it,” said Pritchard. “It would be just as big of a dream for him as it would be for me to see me as an Olympian. He would absolutely love it and that’s my number one goal.”
Staff Sgt. Pritchard was always with an all-male crew growing up and credits her male counterparts for her strength-oriented style. Now she’s with an all-female crew and the dynamics are great. She pointed out that females understand the strengths, weaknesses and abilities more than their male counterparts. The UH-60 mechanic chooses to train hard on strength and endurance to defeat those weaknesses.
If she qualifies for the Olympics, she will be competing in the female division against women from all over the world. When she is competing against women from outside of the U.S., the caliber of competition is very high. She has trained for this for the past five years, honing in on the endurance side of the house.
When COVID hit, Pritchard was limited on training options so she took online classes from her mentors in Texas and Finland.
“My classes were from Monday to Friday, starting at 7 a.m. CST, so I was waking up at 3 a.m. just to make it to their class on time before I go to work,” said Pritchard. “I would sacrifice going to bed early, waking up early, taking their class and then doing my own one-hour workout consisting of weight lifting and sprint training regimens to increase my strength and stamina before I start work.”
For 14 years, Staff Sgt. Pritchard has traveled all over the United States, winning competitions in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Hawaii and Florida. She also competed in an international competition in Europe where she placed 17th out of an estimated 200 females and also placed fourth in the USA Red Bull BC One National Finals in 2019.
In 2021, her Army National Guard unit was attached to the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade and activated to deploy to the Middle East as Task Force Phoenix. In the spring, she reported with her unit to North Fort Hood, Texas, for two months of intense pre-deployment training. North Fort Hood is near Austin, Texas, where the Texas Breakin’ Open 2021 Olympic qualifier took place in April. Her command gave her the opportunity to take a break from training to attend the qualifier. Unfortunately, she didn’t place well in that competition because of a newly implemented rule that took points away from competitors when they stepped out of bounds. Many of the competitors weren’t made aware of the rule until they had violated it.
“Thankfully, prior to that, I already won two Olympic qualifiers online, due to COVID, and I still hold enough points to be a high ranking competitor in the national qualifier.”
Pritchard is now stationed at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq where she will be until early 2022, complicating her drive to qualify for the Olympics. However, Pritchard stands in a very good position, but she’s facing a lot of great female competition in the United States.
“Balancing a deployment and my Olympic dream is proving to be as difficult the further I go. It’s just bad timing that the deployment came up, however, going on a deployment has been another goal of mine since I joined the Army. I didn’t want to end my military service without going on a deployment,” said Pritchard. “This is my first deployment and I am very passionate about my job. This is just as important for me to go on this deployment. I know I could have said no and just focused on the Olympics, but this is just as important to me, too.”
Pritchard said she believes it’s possible to serve her country and also have the highest honor of being called an Olympian. She wants to prove that it is possible and inspire others to do the same, even if there are difficulties in her situation. She said she greatly appreciates that her command has supported her thus far. That alone is enough, she said.
It’s too early to say whether her Olympic dreams will come true. Regardless, she has achieved great things in the Army National Guard: a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter mechanic, a UH-60 Black Hawk Technical Inspector, the only female Flight Instructor in the Alaska National Guard and an Honor Graduate for the Flight Instructor course (the only one in the State of Alaska). “If you dedicate yourself with enough discipline, you can serve your country, be an outstanding Soldier, and achieve your dreams,” she said.
“My number one goal in my life is to be an Olympian. I am hoping to secure a spot on the national team,” said Pritchard. “No matter what, I will not stop training. I have been doing this before they announced that breaking will be in the Olympics. That’s what I do. I’m a very driven individual, that’s who I am.”