After the year she's had, it's fitting that UConn alum Breanna Stewart felt the need to tweet lyrics to an Ariana Grande song that's become an anthem of female empowerment and positivity.
Stewart has had a banner year, winning a WNBA championship, snagging multiple MVP awards and gracing the pages of various magazines. She's solidified herself as a star athlete, taken on a new role as an ambassador for an anti-sexual violence organization, and taken control of her own story of survival.
If 2017 was defined by Stewart's story in The Players Tribune revealing she was sexually abused by a relative's husband as a child, 2018 was defined by the steps she took to take ownership of her story, her body and her voice. She made the decision to keep telling her story, pushing for a more open discourse surrounding sexual assault in hopes of helping others.
"This is my life, and obviously I'm trying to be the best I can be on the basketball court, but also how can I let my life experiences help other people who are going through other experiences and kids that right now are in the same position that I am? It's unfortunate, but it does still happen," Stewart said in July.
In her desire to help others, Stewart hasn't stopped speaking up in 2018. She's spent the year empowering herself, in turn empowering others. She shared her story in an ESPN "E:60" episode and posed for ESPN's Body Issue, saying she wants to show others it's OK to be comfortable in your own skin. Stewart is proud of her body, the work she puts in as an athlete, and said she won't allow the abuse she suffered to have any effect on that.
Opening up about her own story has allowed Stewart to become an ambassador for sexual assault victims. She was named to the national leadership council of RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, and is donating all proceeds from her first basketball camp to Vera House, a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent domestic and sexual violence.
"As a survivor, I know how important it is to have someone you can talk to after experiencing sexual assault or abuse," Stewart said in RAINN's release. "I'm extremely proud to join RAINN's National Leadership Council to help ensure all people have a place to turn for help."
Stewart has described the publication of her story as a weight being lifted off her shoulders, and over the summer teammate and fellow UConn alum Sue Bird said that feeling of relief and freedom seemed to be translating into every aspect of Stewart's life. The honesty and attention that followed it made Stewart more mature, Bird said, and she returned to the court a more confident version of herself.
That more confident, less burdened version of Stewart led Seattle through a magical season that culminated in a WNBA championship. She was dominant all season long, averaging 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in the regular season. She was named WNBA MVP, then captured Finals MVP honors after averaging 25.7 points.
The season may have ended in September, but Stewart's success didn't. She earned a gold medal with the national team at the FIBA Women's World Cup and, of course, was named MVP. Then, all within the last week, she was named USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Year, ESPN's seventh-most dominant athlete of the year and landed on the cover of Eastbay.
After a year filled with personal and professional success, the best way to describe Stewart's mentality heading into the new year is simple.
"Thank (you), next."
©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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