Oksana Masters is a veteran of the Paralympic Games – both Summer and Winter. She’s a four-time Paralympian and eight-time medalist with three sports under her belt at the Games.
Seven of those medals have come in Nordic skiing (including five in 2018 alone) and one was earned in rowing.
Get to know Masters, 32, ahead of her fifth Paralympic appearance.
Masters spent the first seven years of her life shuffling between three orphanages in the Ukraine, where she was born with a set of birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. She had several birth defects that affected her hands and feet, and tibial hemimelia, which resulted in two different leg lengths. Masters had her left leg amputated by the knee at age nine, and her right knee amputated five years later in the same spot.
She currently competes in the H5 classification, which is for handcycling athletes who have a disability that affects their legs.
FINDING PARA SPORTS
Masters moved to Louisville, Kentucky, with her mother at age 13. She was introduced to rowing and was quickly hooked on the sport. At age 23, she made her Paralympic debut at the 2012 London Games, winning bronze in rowing.
Masters later took up cross-country skiing, which she says was a natural transition from rowing because the sports utilize the same muscle groups. Just over a year after learning to ski, Masters qualified for the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, where she won two medals in cross-country skiing.
She made the switch to cycling before the 2016 Rio Games, however, and finished just shy of the podium, placing fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial.
BEING A MULTI-SPORT ATHLETE
"Competing in Nordic skiing, biathlon, and cycling helps prevent overuse issues and overtraining. Unfortunately, the two sports do not transfer over well," Masters told NBC Olympics in a pre-Games questionnaire. "For cycling, to be competitive in Time Trials, training has to be very specific and ideally less time in the gym. For Nordic, I spend two to three days a week in the gym to help efficiency as a skier since there is no sustained speed as there is in cycling."
"Cycling is primarily a pushing dominant sport whereas skiing is pulling. Physiologically, my body changes between my sports very much. coming off a skiing season, I am super fit and my main muscle groups are lats and back, Coming off a cycling season, my shoulders, pecks, and biceps are the primary muscle groups. For about a solid month, even though I am in the best shape after the winter season, I feel like I haven't been training to transition to cycling and vise versa. The best part of balancing three sports is my mind always stays fresh, determined, and motivated."
ADOPTION FROM UKRAINE
Masters spent the first seven years of her life moving between three orphanages in the Ukraine. Her adoptive mother, Gay, saw her photo in a Ukrainian adoption notebook and was instantly drawn to her. It took two and a half years to bring Masters home due to a moratorium on foreign adoptions. The two didn't speak the same language at first, but communicated through gestures.
BACK TO SCHOOL
After returning from the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics, Masters underwent two surgical procedures: one on her right elbow and the other on her right arm. Uncertain about whether or not she would still be able to compete at an elite level, Masters made the decision to return to school for the first time in 10 years. She enrolled in DeVry University through the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Athlete Career and Education Program.
“I realized my whole entire life and my identity was sport, and I just wanted something to have another identity outside of sport,” said Masters, who is studying business with the goal of one day owning her own coffee shop.
"COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE. I get up extra early to take time in my coffee process," Masters said. "I will always, always pack my race bag the night before. On the start line, as the clock starts counting down and beeping with five seconds to go I breathe in and say to myself, "I am," then breath out and say to my self "strong." Some positive affirmations while keeping my heart rate in control."