18 Under 18: Brionna Williams

After losing 119 pounds, this three-sport athlete is a force on and off the court

Updated: February 29, 2012, 1:02 AM ET
By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie | ESPNHS GIRL Magazine

Brionna WilliamsCourtesy of Andre Riley/Kansas City Public SchoolsBrionna Williams of Central (Kansas City, Mo.) overcame childhood obesity, losing 119 pounds on her way to excelling in volleyball, basketball and track.

ESPNHS honors 18 female teen athletes who are doing remarkable things on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Click here to read about them.

If you saw Brionna Williams' 9-foot-8-inch vertical leap on the volleyball court, you might have a hard time believing she's a poster child for overcoming obesity. In fact, the 6-foot-2, three-sport athlete is most at home playing sports: In addition to being captain of the volleyball team, she's also a center for the Central (Kansas City, Mo.) basketball team, and a thrower and jumper on the track team.

And she's not new to sports. She fell in love with volleyball when she was just 9 years old. But a severe case of asthma made tough to cover the distance of the court, peer pressure encouraged poor food choices and, despite her athleticism, Williams' weight continued to climb. "I remember going to a pediatric doctor who told me I was severely overweight and I started to cry," she recalled. She weighed 298 pounds, a number she'd like to forget.

But it was basketball tryouts her freshman year of high school that finally pushed Williams, 17, to face her weight. "I couldn't even get up and down the court," she said. So she set out to lose five pounds. First she tried starving herself, but that gave her headaches and made her cranky. So she asked her gym teacher for help. While the class was doing something else, she'd go walk a mile. Gradually, she progressed to running the mile, and added in core exercises and weights. Then she upped her goal: to lose 130 pounds.

She went cold turkey on soda, drinking water with lemon instead. She traded regular chips for small portions of reduced-sodium ones and loaded up on fruits and veggies. Now down 119 pounds and counting, her life is changed in more ways than she expected. She can breathe again, for one. The clothes are better too. "I can wear prettier things -- and skinny jeans," she boasted. And, despite challenging circumstances -- she hails from a crime-ridden neighborhood, explained her mentor and one-time coach Kyle Snead -- the aspiring lawyer has carved out a spot on the honor role, earned accolades for public speaking through the Future Business Leaders of America, and she's college-bound, having signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at Neosho County Community College. But she's also a living, breathing example of what hard work can do for a trio of middle school students she now mentors as part of a program she herself benefited from in middle school. Her message? "Don't give up," Williams said. "It's not over when you think it's over."