PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — She’s leaving people in the dust. This is the tale of adapted rowing, para–cycling, cross-country skiing and biathlon para-athlete, Oksana Masters. Truth be told, the life of Paralympic stardom almost never happened for her.
The date was April 25, 1986. Three years before her birth, Oksana’s biological mother was living just outside Chernobyl, Ukraine, the home of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of man. Oksana’s birth mother was exposed to radiation, and because of it, her body chemistry was completely altered.
Oksana Masters poses for the cameras prior to her Women’s 12km sitting Cross Country Ski event on March 11, 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chin
Skip ahead to June 19, 1989. Enter into the world Oksana Alexandrovna Bondarchuk. She was born in the Ukraine with several birth defects including webbed fingers, six webbed toes on each foot, and C-shaped legs. Oksana was left for dead by her mother, only to end up in a Ukrainian orphanage.
At age 7, she was adopted by the woman that she calls mother, Gay Masters, a United States citizen, an educator. At the time, she was living in Buffalo, New York, working at the University of Buffalo. Gay Masters was to become a single mother to the orphaned Oksana. At the age of 13, Oksana, who was suffering from tibial hemimelia, had her legs surgically removed, and her hands changed, so they were no longer webbed. This gave Oksana a new lease on life.
“I was always a very active child, I thought the word ‘no’ never applied to me.” This was evident in her ventures with sports.
Shortly before she became an amputee, Oksana picked up the sport of rowing. She was good, or better yet, she was great. As a sculler, she set world records at Crash-B Sprints in 2010. Due to a back injury during the 2012 London Paralympics, where she got a bronze medal in rowing, Masters had to give up the sport. She now focuses her time on para-cycling in Summer and cross country Skiing in Winter. Just recently, she has picked up biathlon… and won a silver medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games. Oksana joked after the ceremony for her silver that potential husband candidates should watch out now that she knows how to shoot a weapon saying,
“Well, my boyfriend, he’s on the nordic team as well, and he cleaned as well, so we push each other really good. He’s a better shooter, but now that I stepped up to his level, yeah… he better start worrying a little bit.”
That silver medal and all the medals she has won in PyeongChang almost did not happen this Paralympic games. As it turns out, two weeks prior to the games, Oksana tore ligaments and partially fractured her elbow, making it very painful to hold a gun, let alone ski cross country style in a competition. She persevered, saying about her arm,
“It’s hanging in there, our U.S. medical staff has done an amazing job. I literally would not be here without them, the team at The Steadman Clinic. They basically fixed my arm in time just in time to get it through.”
Don’t catch her showing off her five medals though, Oksana describes herself as humble stating, “It’s usually my mom or my boyfriend who shows off and tells people about the medals.”
In fact, she doesn’t know where to keep all of her medals now that she is making a collection five in total, with four in PyeongChang: two golds, a silver and a bronze.
When not placing 4th and 5th for para-cycling (which is equally amazing), or cross country skiing, or rowing, she is living in Louisville, Kentucky where her mother now teaches at the University of Louisville. She lives there with one simple philosophy, which she says on twitter:
“To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
Irreplaceable indeed. Team USA for the closing ceremony announced that she will be the flag bearer for the PyeongChang 2018 Games. She had this to say on twitter:
Masters of her domain, a true pioneer in Paralympics and an enigma as a triple threat: Oksana is ready for an encore in Tokyo and Beijing.