WNBA Player and Chestee Athlete Bria Hartley is ALL HEART

WNBA Player and Chestee Athlete Bria Hartley is ALL HEART
Bria Hartley grew up on Long Island, New York and found basketball early on in her childhood. She describes herself as a “hyper active child”, and began playing sports when she was only four-years-old.

“I was always around sports. I would go to the gym with my dad a lot and watch him do workouts and jump rope. He kept me really active.”

Bria had not only an older brother who was intensely involved with sports but also a father who was a pro boxer. Having these immediate family members in the foreground helped normalizer her drive.

At first, Bria thought going to the gym with her dad was just a way to tire her out and get her to go to bed at night, but as she progressed in the sport she began to fall in love.

Early on, her parents realized basketball was going to be more than just a hobby. Bria was already a three-sport varsity athlete by the time she reached 8th grade.

“I knew I was going to play a sport in college it was always just a question of which one. I organically just began to play more basketball and fell in love with it, that’s when I decided I wanted to take it to the next level.”

Bria struggled with putting on muscle in her teen years. She was always very thin, weighing only 100 pounds in 8th grade while playing alongside her more developed varsity teammates.

“I got made fun of a lot for my weight. They would say things like you’re so skinny, you’re so thin. I didn’t really ever let it bother me. I’m skinny, so what? I was really active so I just attributed it to that.”

Bria didn’t really give other peoples’ opinions any space. She focused on her game and her goals. For Bria, whose whole identity was tied to basketball and her big dreams, being told she was “too skinny” was a hard thing to hear.

“In college and leading into my professional years I started to hear my coaches say things like, ‘You need to get stronger; you need to put on muscle’. My goal was always to get to 150# but that actually didn’t even happen until I was 27.”

Bria had a hard time trying to understand why her size was so important. She could out-lift a lot of people and she was strong so it became more and more frustrating to hear.

When Bria got to college at UConn, she immediately felt a difference in the stakes she was up against. UConn had just come off back-to-back championships and her performance mattered more than ever.

“When you get to college it’s just another level you need to push yourself to. The workouts were more difficult and the practices were longer. Eventually, your body gets used to it.”

As a freshman Bria got a lot of playing time and everyone was expecting UConn to win again. It got easier as the years ticked on. For Bria, academics were also a tough adjustment.

“I came out of High School an AP student. College was a lot more material and a lot less tests. I think my first test was bio and I did terrible. I was also adjusting to 6am practices and dozing off in class. As I got older, I got better at scheduling my classes and I took summer courses and winter session to lighten the load.”

Bria had some of her best years academically later on, but most of her energy was always reserved for basketball. At a certain point in college, Bria realized she had the potential to make basketball a professional career.

“My path worked out. I was an All American in High School, then I went to UConn, which is known as one of the best division one female college basketball teams in the country. After that, as long as I did what I was supposed to do I knew would have a chance to go pro.”

Bria circles back to say that not everyone that goes to UConn goes pro, she just tried to meet expectations at each level. By the end of her first year, she was awarded freshman of the year, and then in her sophomore year she became an All-American. By senior year the scouts were really looking at her, and she just ‘stayed the course’.

Bria’s path sounds easy in theory, but every single one of those milestones was an accomplishment of great enormity. This all contributed to her eventually being chosen for the draft.

When Bria was drafted, she was happy to land on a team in DC that was close to home. She did pretty well her first two years and during her third year in the league, she found out that she was pregnant with her son.

The year she got pregnant was also, coincidentally, the same year she was traded to New York.

“Being pregnant was a huge adjustment, but being traded and being close to home made it a lot easier.”

Her son was just four months old when she went back and being away from him gave her anxiety. Having her parents close by made all the difference.

“Sometimes I had to go out on the road without him. We would have two-week long road trips and I couldn’t bring him. Somehow, I would always just figure it out. When I was in DC, I had teammates who had kids so I was able to see how they did it.”

Bria found out she was pregnant early, at just eight weeks and since her season had just started in June, she played almost the entire time. It wasn’t until five and half months when she finally called it quits.

“Even though I was cleared up to six months it just got to a point where I was like ‘Okay, I’m going to sit down’. I had a trainer who worked with me when I went back to Long Island. Most of the stuff I did with him was just body weight and I continued with that up until three days before I gave birth.”

Bria did as much as she could to stay in shape in order to make her comeback easier. She began working out again postpartum and was back on the court by March.

“I lost so much of my muscle mass having a baby so a lot of my training was focused on bulking back up which, was really hard. Once I got to about six months postpartum, the muscle memory began coming back and I was playing a lot better.”

Towards the end of her pregnancy Bria struggled.

“I would get nauseous from time to time but the routine of going to practice helped. I noticed when I went back home and didn’t have that routine, I would feel sick more often. For me, it was more at the end of my pregnancy when I felt worse.”

2020 was a good year for Bria basketball-wise until she tore her ACL.

“I tore my ACL in August, 2020 during a game. I quickly changed directions and felt my leg give out from under me. I think I felt the bones rub together. They did a test on the court to check it but my whole leg was throbbing, so nothing they did made a difference.”

Two days later, Bria was at an orthopedic surgeon scheduling her surgery for a few weeks later. She says healing has been a painstakingly slow process.

“I didn’t realize how much pain I would be in after my surgery. I had more pain from my knee than having my son. I feel like I still can’t walk ‘normal’ yet. I have a slight limp.”

Bria had signed a contract to go overseas to Istanbul to play, but once injured, her contract was terminated.

“It’s a little bittersweet not to be there because I have a good group of friends. The hardest thing for me has been losing my routine, not having as much to do, and not knowing what to do. I have physical therapy four times per week and my son is getting closer to school age.”

Bria has taken to her social platforms to raise awareness for the most recent social injustices in our society. She has worked to use these mediums to get people out to vote, creating a voting initiative within the players association.

“After George Floyd, I was in New York and flew back to Minnesota two days later [where she has been living with her boyfriend] and a local athlete had organized a march. I don’t like to go to things like that too often because sometimes bad things happen in large crowds, but this was the one time I felt it was really powerful to be out there marching.”

Onlookers could be seen coming out of their city apartments and onto their balconies in support. The peaceful marchers did a loop around Minneapolis and attracted others who were pulling over on the highway to join.

“It was a really peaceful and special experience.”

When Bria went into the bubble, her team and the league used their visibility to spread awareness.

“Our league and players association organized phone calls with families of victims of those who had been effected by police brutality with the Say Her Name campaign. Some of the calls were really tough and emotional. I would imagine this happening to my family member…or anyone really, and just hearing the pain they had been through was hard.”

COVID had an impact on Bria, both personally and professionally this year. Her season overseas in Istanbul was cut short and she spent weeks wondering when and if the WNBA would start again.

“When I finally went into the bubble, there was a whole mental health aspect to it. You are essentially locked into an area that is isolated. You can’t go to the grocery store; you literally can’t leave to go anywhere.”

Most of the players stayed in apartment style homes with kitchens and other amenities to normalize their stay and make it more comfortable. If they made it to the finals, they could be in the bubble for up to three months.

“It was very stressful; everyone was trying to adjust to this new way of life on the fly. We were playing games almost every other day, so if you were stressed about something you really didn’t even have that much time to think about it.”

Bria plans on using the next few months to continue with her knee rehab, and once she gets further along in her recovery, she plans on also moving forward with a hip surgery. Her plan is to eventually return too Phoenix to play, and that will be her final destination for a while.

In her limited free time, Bria has found a creative outlet in fashion. One of the many reasons she was drawn to The Chestee was for its innovative design, passionate message, and inclusivity across size and race.

“I’m really interested in learning about design and I love seeing this process unfold.”

Keep an eye out for Bria’s Chestee coming soon. (Interview was done in November, 2020)

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