Young woman fighting incredible odds

Oksana Masters shares her story of rowing towards success

Published On: Aug 22 2013 10:05:38 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 23 2013 06:20:00 AM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -

If you're having a rough day, you're about to get a little inspiration.  Meet Oksana Masters. She works hard and dreams big.  

“I basically say, if you want to do this you're going to do it,” said Oksana, who is a  Paralympic athlete.

Never mind that she wears prosthetic legs. Oksana rowed her way to success with her teammate marine veteran Rob Jones, winning a bronze medal in the 2012 London Paralympics.  

“It's not just for you,” said Oksana. “When you hear USA, you're doing it for your country.”

Oksana's mother Gay Masters adopted her at age seven from an orphanage in Ukraine, where she was abused and hungry.  

“She was literally failure to thrive, starving to death,” explained Gay.

Oksana was born without weight bearing bones in her legs. She had webbed fingers and no thumbs. Still, nothing kept her down.  When Oksana's legs had to be amputated, it was traumatic.

Oksana recalled, “Once I had my second one done, that's when it hit me like, oh my God, they took my leg off.”

Oksana wants to live life to the max, and that brings her to Kentucky Prosthetics in Louisville. On this day, Sienna Newman fits Oksana with new sockets for her legs.

“Getting to watch a friend and a patient perform at such an elite level of sports is just awe-inspiring,” said Sienna.

Oksana has an incredible will to succeed.   

Oksana explained, “It's really important for me to give it my all in the gym, basically to the verge of tears, because that means there's nothing else you could have done.”

In sports and life, Oksana feels blessed.

“I got what I ever wanted was a family,” she said. “I've got the best mom in the world.”

Oksana had a taste of the Olympic field in London and wants more. She hopes to compete in the World Cup for adaptive rowing in June, the World Championships in August, and maybe even Nordic skiing in the Winter Paralympics next year.

Additional Information:

Prosthetic, or artificial, limbs are as old as human societies. Mythological characters in stories ranging from Peru, Ireland, and Greece had artificial limbs, which were usually made from a precious metal or material.  The first recorded document of a prosthetic limb was written in 3500 B.C., in an Indian poem, the Rig-Veda. In 1529, French doctor Ambroise Paré introduced the concept of amputation to the medical community. The Civil War was essentially the start of the American Prosthetic industry; as it's estimated over 45,000 amputations were performed during the war. After World War II, the American government subsidized weapons companies to begin research and development on prosthetics for veterans. The most recent developments incorporate the use of computers, improved plastics, and improved designs in an effort to make the prosthetic as natural as possible. (Source: unc.edu, www.amputee-coalition.org)

Paralympics: The Paralympics has its origins in the first Wheelchair Games in 1948, which was held to coincide with the Olympics that year.  Eventually this movement culminated in the first Paralympic Games, held in Rome in 1960.  Although the first event only featured wheelchair athletes, since then the visually impaired, amputees, those with cerebral palsy, and paraplegics have been allowed to compete.  Starting with the Summer Games in 1988, and the Winter Games in 1992, the Paralympics has been held in the same cities and venues as the Olympics.  Beginning with the 1988 games, the term "Paralympics" has been used to show that the two events happen parallel to one another.  To mirror this, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee now work together and in support of one another.  (Source: paralympic.org, www.paralympiceducation.ca)

Adaptive Rowing: The history of adaptive rowing dates back to World War II, when blind veterans competed in an Army versus Navy race in Philadelphia. Rowing for those with disabilities first showed up as an exhibition event at a Junior Championship event in 1992, then again at the World Championship events in 1999.  The event debuted at the Paralympics in 2008, after being voted in by the IPC in 2005.  The name refers to the equipment being "adapted" to the athlete, rather than the sport being "adapted" for the athlete.  (Source: usrowing.org, worldrowing.com)