AL ASAD, Iraq — 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.
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. 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. The media called it breakdancing in the 1980s, but the competitive sport is called breaking.
Breaking was officially inducted into the Olympics in December. Since then, United States of America Breaking has been working diligently with the International Olympic Committee and the United States of America dance committee to host point-driven competitions to build the team for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
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 discovered breaking, she dove in wholeheartedly, giving up sports for her new passion.
"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."
Although hesitant at first, the Alaska native's parents became supportive of Pritchard's pursuit after seeing how it enriched her life. Through breaking, she was able to meet people from all over the world and learn about many cultures.
"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."
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 said women understand their strengths, weaknesses and abilities more than their male counterparts. Pritchard 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. She has trained for this for five years, honing in on the endurance needed to be an effective dancer.
The COVID pandemic limited her training options, but she was able to adapt but taking 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 weightlifting and sprint training regimens to increase my strength and stamina before I start work."
For 14 years, she has traveled all over the United States, winning competitions in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Hawaii and Florida. She placed 17th out of about 200 competitors in an international competition in Europe and 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. She reported with her unit to North Fort Hood, Texas, for two months of intense pre-deployment training in the spring. North Fort Hood is near Austin, Texas, where the Texas Breakin' Open 2021 Olympic qualifier took place in April. Her command allowed her 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.
"Balancing a deployment and my Olympic dream is proving to be as difficult the further I go," said Pritchard. "It's just bad timing that the deployment came up. However, going on 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."
Pritchard wants to prove it's possible to serve her country and also have the highest honor of being called an Olympian.
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 the only honor graduate in Alaska for the flight instructor course.
"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."