Oksana Masters took long road from Ukrainian orphanage to Paralympic stardom
A Ukraine-born U.S. skier who suffered radiation-induced birth defects following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster says, “I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now, I’ve been chasing this gold medal for such a long time,” said the 28-year-old. “This is the most amazing medal of my career” after winning Winter Paralympic gold in South Korea.
Oksana Masters was born in 1989 in what is now Ukraine, and was then part of the Soviet Union, three years after a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl plant, sparking the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Her family gave her up and she lived in three different orphanages until 7, when she was adopted by an American woman and taken to the United States.
Because of the severity of her birth defects, doctors decided to amputate both her legs, and she also had multiple rounds of reconstructive surgery on her hands. At birth she had six toes on each foot, five webbed fingers on each hand and no thumbs, and her left leg was 15 centimeters shorter than her right.
But despite her disabilities, Masters was determined to get involved in sports. As well as skiing, she also competes in rowing, biathlon and cycling.
She earned her first Paralympic gold, winning the 1.1-kilometer cross-country sprint skiing at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics.