Breckynn Willis: Inspiring Strength Inside and Out
We met Breckynn Willis in her domain, at the pool. Immediately upon meeting her, you can feel her vibrant energy. She told us she feels like the most confident person in the world when she’s on the pool deck, in a new suit, with music in her headphones, right before a race. She calls it her “don’t mess with me” attitude.
Breckynn started swimming around 4 or 5 years old, but at first she didn’t like it — it was her sister Dreamer’s thing. That changed when her sister’s team found themselves one person short for a relay and her mom encouraged her to sub in, from there she never stopped.
Now, she swims the 200 free and 100 fly for her high school and competes on a club team.
Normally, after a winning race Breckynn gets out of pool, high-fives her teammates and then shifts her focus to winning the next race.
But during a recent meet, the focus of the pool deck was shifted away from her speed and powerful strokes to the way her swimsuit fit her body. Without warning, Breckynn exited the pool to find out that the referee ruled her disqualified based on the coverage of her team-issued Nike suit. “Cheeks can’t touch cheeks” was the reasoning given. Twenty-nine other girls on the team were wearing the same suit, but only Breckynn was disqualified.
Breckynn, who says she can sometimes wear her emotions on her sleeve was understandably upset and embarrassed. She had trained for this day, she won and it was all being taken away from her for something that had nothing to do with her performance in the race. She told us, “We are there to swim for something we’ve trained for all year and to have the focus change from us to just our bodies and our suit was really frustrating.”
With the support of the ASAA, the call was eventually reversed and Breckynn’s win was reinstated. But, the incident started a much-needed conversation around a heavy handed “modesty rule” that isn’t inclusive of curvier figures.
Since what she calls “the suit issue”, Breckynn has received a flood of support from her community in Alaska. She told us she’s even had several women reach out to her saying they had experienced the same thing. Some of them quit the sport forever. Breckynn admits that in the days after the meet she felt a sense of dread and, like these other women, thought about not finishing out the season.
Ultimately, she said she won’t let comments like these stop her from achieving her dream to swim in college. “I don’t like to give other people the power. I’m not going to let her kick me out of the sport.”
Her message to anyone who’s gone through this is: “What you’re doing is way more important than the people who want to make these types of comments. It’s background noise, just know you’re above that.”
She says the team aspect of swimming is really what got her through this. “I love my coach, all the people that I’ve met...they can make anything fun.”
Right now, she’s focused on state championships. “It’s our biggest meet of the year. I did really well last year so feel like I have a lot to do this year.” With her mindset back on training, she feels like a stronger woman through it all.
To train for state, Breckynn and her team practice a combination of weight lifting and intense morning and evening sets in the pool. But swimming isn’t all they do. She and her teammates love to go hammocking, an Alaskan pastime that involves hiking up to rad views and setting up a hammock. It’s the perfect combination of activity and chill. Which is exactly the kind of work-hard, play-hard balance that we are very into over here at Jolyn.
We love to see women like Breckynn overcome challenges and come out even stronger all while daring to be different. She is ever-inspiring us to never allow ourselves to be defined by anything but our strength, inside and out.