New Delhi: Oksana Masters never let her disabilities come in the way to her path to achieve success in sports. Although the cards dealt to Oksana right from the moment of her berth were not good, but the Ukraine-born American paralympic rower and cross-country skier just went from strength-to-strength against all obstacles.
Born in a small town called Khmelnytskyi in Ukraine, Oksana suffered from several radiation-induced birth defects like tibial hemimelia (resulting in different leg lengths), missing weight-bearing shinbones in her calves, webbed fingers with no thumbs, and six toes on each foot, caused due to Chernobyl disaster in the 1980s. She was abandoned by her birth parents to an orphanage in Ukraine, where she stayed till the age of 7 before being adopted by an American single mother.
“I feel so incredibly lucky to be alive, because I feel in some ways I wasn’t meant to be alive. I know there are kids that don’t make it out of the orphanages,” the double Paralympic gold medal winner said.
“I’ve had good friends that didn’t make it and I’m going to live every little moment for those kids,” the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award.
Despite having legs amputated above the knee, she took up rowing and skiing. Oksana still has the warmest memories of her visit to Berlin to receive her Laureus Award in February this year, just weeks before the pandemic reached Europe with no hint of the problems to come.
“One minute I’m on a plane, then shaking so many hands, hugging so many people under one roof, celebrating so many incredible accomplishments of the current seasons and being star struck, trying so hard not to have my mouth wide open,” she said in a statement released by Laureus.
“Thinking about how the world has changed since is just crazy. I’m personally relieved (Tokyo) is postponed and not cancelled. Though being a dual sport, two season athlete it makes it really, really challenging because now instead of having 12 months from Tokyo 2020 to Beijing 2022, it’s only going to be about 6-7 months turnaround.
“The focus right now for me is going to be Tokyo and I am not qualified for Tokyo. All of our events just got cancelled, the World Championships have just cancelled, so I’m just trying not to get in that panic mode,” Oksana, a resident of Louisville in Kentucky, US, said.
She is very excited about the future of the Paralympic Movement once the current problems of the pandemic can be resolved.
“Watch out world, because the Paralympic Movement in London boomed and honestly every year it has been growing and growing, I have no doubt that Tokyo is going to be that next big boom.
“I’ve never been to Tokyo but I have been to Japan, but only for skiing, I’ve never been to Japan in the summer. I wonder if I’m Japanese at heart, because I love the culture, I love the food, but I just really respect the culture, the respect that they have for their elders and people and their land and just tradition and I’m so excited to go to Tokyo and hopefully qualify to be there,” she added.
She recalls when she went to the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, she was on a bus from the airport to the Olympic Village and she could see the Black Sea, across which was Ukraine – where she was born.
“I was just looking across the Black Sea and just like literally miles away is where I’m from, it’s right over there I can see the outline and silhouette of a town. It wasn’t the town where I was born, but it was the country where I was born and I’ve always had that pride of being American and Ukrainian. I didn’t get there then, but I got there later,” the 30-year-old said.