Brittney Griner: After meager rations in a Russian penal colony, the basketball star is back in the United States with a Christmas tree and a barbecue


Freed from a Russian penal colony and back on American soil, WNBA star Brittney Griner got her first taste of a return to normal life this weekend at a military installation in Texas.

The Olympic gold medalist arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Friday and now lives with his wife, Cherelle Griner, in a residential environment on base — one of his attendants, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, decorated with a Christmas tree. Christmas.

Griner, 32, is “optimistic, grateful and hopeful,” Colas told CNN, after returning to the United States from what US officials called a wrongful detention in Russia.

For Griner – who spent nearly 10 months in custody in Russia – “normal” meant indulging in her favorites, including a Dr Pepper soda, the first drink she had in the plane hangar after the ‘landing.

Griner’s loved ones also visited her for hours, bringing her a barbecue in San Antonio for her to enjoy.

The athlete ate significantly more nutritious foods and supplements compared to his time in custody, Colas said. “His energy level was really high,” she added.

Griner also had his hair cut to clean up his “Russian fade,” as his friends and family jokingly call him, Colas said. Griner’s characteristic long standoffs were cut during her captivity as she continually battled the flu because her wet hair continued to freeze, Colas said.

At the Texas military base, Griner hit the basketball court for the first time since being imprisoned: her first move was a dunk. Months ago, in pretrial detention in Russia, Griner was offered a basketball and a hoop, but she refused to play, Colas said.

“I think it’s fair to say she picked up a ball on purpose and the first thing was a dunk…it was really encouraging,” Colas said. “She was really excited.”

Griner appears to be in good physical health, but her return to the WNBA in the spring will depend on her, according to Colas.

“Is she going to be ready?” We’ll see,” Colas said.

Griner arrived at the San Antonio Medical Center for a routine evaluation after she was released Thursday as part of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia for notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Concerns had grown that Griner was being used as a political pawn amid Russia’s war on Ukraine after she was arrested for drug trafficking in February at an airport in Russia, where she plays basketball during the offseason of the WNBA, then later sentenced to nine years in prison. jail.

From now on, Griner will focus on his recovery, including getting physical and psychological support from the government to help him reintegrate.

“She had a lot of psychological support,” Colas said. “The resources are very robust. It’s very supportive and very blood sugar-focused. This is its development agency.

This care is mainly aimed at helping former captives regain control of their lives after long detentions. Griner opted into the Department of Defense’s post-isolation program, which other wrongfully detained Americans, including Trevor Reed, participated in, Colas said; Reed is a former Marine released in April after three years of wrongful detention in Russia.

It’s unclear how long Griner and his wife will stay in San Antonio, but the decision is up to him, Colas said.

But what has become clear is that “normal” will always be different after the ordeal Griner has been through. For security reasons, for example, the Griners have already begun the process of finding a new home, Colas said.

While it’s unclear if fans will see Griner on the basketball court again in May, one thing is certain, Colas said: Griner is eager to use her power and influence to help others, especially Paul Whelan. , another American still imprisoned in Russia.

“It was one of the first things she asked me,” Colas said. “She is very, very worried about it. And will send a message to Paul.

Whelan previously messaged through US reps who spoke to him in recent days: “Please tell Brittney that Paul said he’s glad she’s home,” telling him he said, according to Colas.

“She’s absolutely thinking about the future,” Colas said. “She’s already talking about the position she’s in now to help other people get home.”

Whelan – an American, Irish, British and Canadian citizen – is imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after being arrested in December 2018 for espionage, which he denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He, like Griner, was declared wrongfully detained by US officials.

The United States has tried to persuade Russia to trade both Griner and Whelan for arms dealer Bout, but Russian officials have not budged on the issue, with Russia saying the Americans’ two cases were treated differently depending on the charges brought by each of them.


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