Brittney Griner departed a medical military facility in Texas on Friday and headed home to Arizona, and she intends to play basketball for her team this season, according to her Instagram feed.
For the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who was released last week in a prisoner swap after nearly 300 days in Russian custody, the day marks another step in her reintegration into American life.
“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” she said in an Instagram post. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”
Griner said she was “grateful to each person who advocated for me” and she mentioned Paul Whelan, whose release could not be secured in the prisoner swap that brought her home.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”
Griner took off from San Antonio around 11 a.m. on Friday, CNN confirmed via her agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
As she boarded the plane, Griner was greeted by Phoenix Mercury GM Jim Pitman, Vince Kozar, president of the Phoenix Mercury, and her Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, all of whom made a surprise appearance to welcome her home.
Griner was headed back to Arizona, though her representatives would not confirm exactly where, citing security concerns. CNN previously reported that Griner and her wife, Cherelle, had already made plans to move upon her return to the United States.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” Griner said.
Griner’s detention, after Russian officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, became an international cause during a delicate time in relations between Washington and Moscow. US officials deemed it a wrongful detention.
She had traveled to Russia to play basketball in the WNBA offseason and was arrested on drug smuggling charges at an airport in the Moscow region.
Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil in her luggage, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.
The Phoenix Mercury center became a pawn in Russia’s war in Ukraine and returned to the US on December 9 after a prisoner swap for notorious convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner stayed at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a week for routine evaluation. She has been staying with her wife, Cherelle Griner, in a residential facility on the base. Her arrest and conviction brought attention to the plight of other Americans in Russian custody, including Whelan and Trevor Reed, who returned to the US in April after a nearly three-year ordeal.