Oksana Masters needed to lose her legs to change into a world-class competitor. “If I hadn’t been an amputee, I might have by no means been an athlete,” she says.
Uncovered to radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe whereas within the womb, Masters was born in 1989 with a situation known as tibial hemimelia. Her left leg was six inches shorter than her proper, and each limbs had been lacking weight-bearing bones. She had 5 webbed fingers on every hand and no thumbs.
Masters spent her first seven-and-a-half years in orphanages in Ukraine earlier than she was adopted by an American school professor, Homosexual Masters. After sorting by means of purple tape with the adoption company, Homosexual introduced Oksana to america. There, medical doctors decided that each of Oksana’s legs wanted to be amputated above the knee. Her left decrease leg was eliminated when she was 9. Her proper was amputated when she was 14.
“I wasn’t an athlete earlier than my amputations,” she says. “I used to be all the time lively, however once I tried to be a part of the volleyball group or the dance group in center faculty, I used to be a legal responsibility with my prosthetics. I wasn’t tall sufficient, I’m not coordinated in any way and I didn’t know if I had the athleticism.”
Somebody recommended that she attempt adaptive rowing. Masters was hesitant at first, however she fell in love with the game as quickly as she hit the water. “[Through rowing] I used to be capable of be taught my strengths, and to actually respect what my physique may do relatively than give attention to what I used to be lacking,” she says.
Right now Masters, 31, is likely one of the world’s most achieved—and versatile—athletes. She has received eight Paralympic medals in three sports activities, and has her sights set on reaching the rostrum in a fourth, biking, this summer time in Tokyo. Her dominance in so many alternative Paralympic disciplines places her in uncommon firm; solely 5 of the 136 athletes who’ve competed in each the Winter and Summer time Video games have medaled in every.
Masters’s Paralympic journey began in 2012 on the London Video games, the place she received bronze in rowing (trunk and arm combined doubles sculls) whereas partnering with Rob Jones, a Marine veteran who misplaced each legs in a land mine explosion. It was the primary medal the U.S. had ever received within the occasion.
After the London Video games, Masters suffered a again harm that made rowing a problem and finally compelled her to surrender the game. “The medical doctors advised me that I would should get rods in my again if I ever wished to row once more—and even then, it might be tough. As a double amputee, there have been many risks in placing rods in my again,” she advised ESPN in 2020.
Masters determined to attempt cross-country snowboarding in 2013 after watching it through the Vancouver Olympics. It rapidly grew to become her subsequent ardour. She beloved the problem, and was inquisitive about why the game was so under-publicized in the U.S. At that time, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi had been simply 14 months away, so she switched her focus to the snow—and to incomes a special sort of berth with Group USA.
Not solely did Masters make the group for Sochi, however she medaled there, profitable silver in the 12km Nordic Skiing event and bronze in the 5km. She introduced dwelling Group USA’s first Paralympic medal in cross-country snowboarding in 20 years.
Following the Sochi Video games, Masters nonetheless felt the itch to row once more, however didn’t need to worsen her again harm. So, on the suggestion of one in every of her snowboarding teammates, she began hand biking as a part of her restoration. Her muscular shoulders and core served her nicely in biking, which requires mechanics much like nordic snowboarding. Masters spent the summer time of 2015 coaching on the handcycle after which competing in races within the hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Summer time Paralympic Video games. As soon as once more, her intense focus paid off. She reached the Rio Video games, the place she completed fourth within the highway race and fifth within the time trial.
She was disenchanted about not medaling, however not daunted. After Rio, Masters returned to her skis, decided to goal for the prize that also eluded her: a gold medal. Regardless of injuring her elbow simply weeks earlier than the 2018 Winter Paralympics, and falling throughout one of many early occasions, Masters struck gold in PyeongChang, profitable championships in each the 1.1 km and 5 km cross-country ski events, and racking up a complete of 5 medals, together with two silvers in biathlon and one other bronze in cross-country snowboarding. She was chosen by her teammates to hold the American flag on the closing ceremony.
Her subsequent objective is to compete in each the Summer and Winter Paralympic Video games inside the span of six months. Since 2016, Masters has cut up her time between Colorado Springs—the place she trains for snowboarding—and Champaign, Sick., her dwelling base for biking. Even through the pandemic, she continued her conditioning for each sports activities. As soon as competitors began once more, she picked up the place she had left off, sweeping the occasions on the Para Nordic Snowboarding World Cup in Slovenia in March as she received three golds in biathlon and three in cross-country snowboarding.
“You’ll suppose I’ve good time administration,” she says with amusing. Masters estimates that she spends six-to eight hours of her day coaching. “It doesn’t sound exhausting since you suppose, ‘Oh, a piece day is eight hours.’ But it surely’s additionally the restoration time, and ensuring that I’m truly resting. There may be all the time room for enchancment in all areas of my life.”
Masters brings her bike along with her whereas she trains for snowboarding and squeezes in biking apply when time permits, normally within the mornings. Ski apply consists of repeated intervals with excessive depth. Within the afternoon, she lifts weights and rides a stationary bike. Biathlon coaching is comparable, with some taking pictures apply thrown in. When Masters flips her focus to the summer time, and biking over snowboarding, she works at a slower tempo and provides resistance in an effort to get her bike energy again.
“For each sports activities I exploit my higher physique,” she says. “However they’re two separate motions. Biking is all pushing and cross nation snowboarding is all about pulling. I’ve to de-train as we come off peak ski health and get into biking form.”
Because the Tokyo Video games method, she feels extra ready for her summer time sport than she was 5 years in the past. Masters now has a personalized carbon handbike, which provides her a bonus as a result of it’s lighter and may attain larger speeds. She has studied the game and realized which positions present essentially the most energy for pedaling, and may higher gauge how a lot time she must get well.
When Masters started biking, she didn’t discover anybody she may look to for assist. And he or she didn’t come throughout many different girls hand cyclists.
“There was no steering for questions like ‘What’s the appropriate seat place?’ or ‘How do I even do that sport?’” she says. “I didn’t have any background in racing on a motorbike, and the game is so underrepresented within the U.S.”
Masters hopes that, with the Olympics and Paralympics coming to Los Angeles in 2028, girls’s biking—particularly Paralympic biking—may have a better profile and acquire a much bigger following. She believes that being a part of a “dominant feminine drive” is her mission going ahead. She joined the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Women’s Adaptive Cycling team in 2019 in an effort to coach with like-minded athletes who’re dedicated to serving to develop the game.
“My objective—exterior of medals, as a result of clearly I need to handle unfinished enterprise from Rio—is to carry extra consciousness and assist develop the sector of ladies’s biking,” she says. “Not many individuals within the States take note of biking, and even much less so to Paralympic biking.”
Masters shall be main the cost to vary that. She has impressed sports activities followers and fellow athletes internationally along with her story of overcome adversity and her performances on the Paralympics stage. Now she hopes to encourage the subsequent technology to problem themselves and to persevere—by reminding them it’s okay to fail alongside the way in which.
“By no means let society or different individuals’s notion of you identify the way you view your self,” she says. “Individuals see that I went to 4 Paralympic video games and I’ve all these medals, however what they do not understand is that I did not make the Paralympic group the primary time I attempted, in 2008. I did not win a gold medal till I used to be in my tenth yr of pursuing it. And I didn’t medal in Rio [in 2016]. I didn’t quit. There is no good timeline. So do not be afraid of setbacks or failures as a result of they’re classes.”
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Mackenzie Meaney is a contributor for GoodSport, a media firm devoted to elevating the visibility of ladies and ladies in sports activities.