Mar 2, 2022 - Sports

Team USA's Oksana Masters' Ukrainian roots highlighted at Paralympics

Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters competes during the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Oksana Masters, already primed to be one of Team USA's biggest stars at the upcoming Paralympics, will be under an even bigger spotlight given her Ukrainian roots.

Driving the news: Masters, 32, was born in Ukraine with several radiation-induced defects due to the nearby Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

  • Put up for adoption at birth, Masters bounced around three orphanages until she was 7, when finally an American woman, Gay Masters, adopted her and brought her home to New York.
  • Now, she's a 10-time Paralympic medalist — across rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing and the biathlon — and one of just six Americans with golds at both the Summer and Winter Games.
  • That success, and her inspiring story, has made her one of the world's most marketable Paralympians, with endorsements from Nike, Visa, Toyota and others.

The big picture: If one thing were to define Masters, it wouldn't be her hardships or athleticism, but her resilience.

  • After enduring countless surgeries — including the amputation of both legs by age 14 — she turned to sports as a salve, and something clicked. "Sports did save her life," her mother told NYT.
  • Each new challenge presented an opportunity. Forced to retire from rowing due to a back injury in 2012, she turned to cycling and skiing, which she still dominates today.
  • She dislocated her elbow a week before Pyeongchang 2018 — then won five medals. She had a tumor removed 100 days before Tokyo 2020 — then won two golds.

The last word: "Everyone has hardships," Masters told Self. "Some are just more physical and obvious."

🎥 Watch: The real Oksana Masters (YouTube)

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