Marine veteran Annika Hutsler wasn’t even sure she was going to the Lakers-Pacers basketball game on Monday until the morning of the game.
When a friend reached out the night before asking if she wanted his extra ticket, Hutsler, who lives in Los Angeles, initially said no. Despite being an athlete who competes in adaptive sports at an elite level, Hutsler said she isn’t a fan of mainstream sports.
“And then that morning, I’m like, ‘You know what? I might as well go. What else am I going to do, sit at home?’” she told Marine Corps Times.
It turns out sitting at the game as an mere bystander wasn’t in Hutsler’s cards either. By drinking beer out of her prosthetic leg while featured on the jumbotron, drawing huge cheers from the crowd, she became the official “Fan of the Game.”
“Some people don’t take lightly to things like this and showing off your disability like that,” she said. “But I’m glad that everybody was having a good time and realized that I was there having a good time.”
Hutsler admitted she isn’t a big beer drinker, but an appearance on the jumbotron at a Lakers game felt like the right time and place for the stunt.
Hutsler enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2017 with plans to earn a commission and serve 20 years before retiring. But a tumor in her right foot derailed those designs.
After months of frustrating, painful medical treatment, Hutsler elected to have her right leg amputated below the knee.
“I was like, I’m not going to waste my 20s knowing that I’m going to get my leg cut off,” she told Marine Corps Times in a profile in October. “I’d rather be able to live a successful life with amputation than wait around for an amputation to happen.”
Since medically retiring as a lance corporal in January 2020, Hutsler has turned her attention toward elite sports, including track and snowboarding, and modeling for household names like Tommy Hilfiger and Target. One of her goals is to raise awareness about disabilities.
For winning the “Fan of the Game” honor, Hutsler received a $100 American Express gift card. It’ll probably go toward gas, she told Marine Corps Times.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.