AceShowbiz - Brittney Griner's wife has opened up about her reunion with the WNBA star following her release from a Russian jail earlier this month. In a new interview, Cherelle Griner detailed her feelings from when Brittney was sentenced to nine years in jail to her long-awaited return to the U.S. soil.
"It was almost as if somebody just punched you in the stomach and you inhaled," Cherelle tells PEOPLE of the shock after learning of the harsh punishment for her wife. "You never get to breathe out."
Not knowing Brittney's fate, Cherelle, who recently finished law school, admits, "I was hopeless a lot of days. You try and stay grounded, but I'm human." She adds, "Still, I would never completely give up hope on my wife's life."
After her public plea for her wife's release, President Joe Biden announced on December 8 that Brittney would be released in a prison swap and was heading home. "I had thought about that moment a thousand times, and I thought I would be full of tears," she says of the good news. "But I was overwhelmingly happy. It was the first time I was able to finally exhale, and I'm like, 'Oh, thank God, this is such a great day.' "
Several hours later, Cherelle was among those who greeted Brittney on the tarmac inside a bunker in San Antonio. "We were both just instantly crying," she says of their first meeting in 10 months. "I was standing there full of tears and someone ran over and handed me a handkerchief. I definitely needed it."
Medical personnel boarded the plane first, to quickly evaluate Brittney. "Those seconds couldn't go by fast enough," Cherelle shares. When Brittney was allowed to disembark, the two fell into a tight embrace. "I couldn't stop touching her face," she recalls. "I was like, 'Is this really you?' It did not feel real. It was chilling - and warm. I was just holding on tight. I couldn't let her go."
Brittney was cleared medically to leave Texas after two days of observation and the couple has since returned to their shared home in Arizona. Cherelle says their first night together was restful. "The first night, we didn't sleep at all," she says, laughing. "We just talked all night long and all morning. And it was so good to be able to do it without three weeks in between the conversation, because for 10 months we were passing letters. It was great to have that dialogue back and forth."
But Cherelle's restful reunion with Brittney was nothing compared to the nightmare that kept her awake while his wife was in detainment. "I had all my freedom," she says of those days. "I had my bed. But when you have your family overseas in a situation like that, time zones play a factor. Every night, that's the only time I could talk to her attorneys and I could handle things, anything related to Russia. And so I just hadn't slept."
"It's unfortunate that those 10 months happened without us being able to be side-by-side," Cherelle reflects on their time apart. "But it happened, and we're embracing the fact that we now get to learn each other's story through that time. So we're taking it slow. We are not doing it all at once. But we are honoring the fact that I went through something that was really hard and difficult without BG's awareness, and vice versa. Day by day, we're just feeding a little bit to the soul and understanding each other's journey so we can actually start walking together."
Brittney herself broke her silence following her release on December 16. In an Instagram post, she shared a photo of herself exiting the plane and a picture of her hugging her wife Cherelle. "It feels so good to be home!" she wrote in the caption. "The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. 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."
The 32-year-old went on to give a special shout-out to President Joe Biden, saying, "President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too." She added, "I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you."