Paralympic Winter Games
04 - 13 March

Ever-inspiring Oksana aims for Masterly act at Beijing

'I feel like this is literally going to be my Paralympic journey as an athlete coming full circle. I wanted to get to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games so bad. And I failed to make it.' 20 Feb 2022
Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters of USA looks on after the Cross Country 10km Mixed Relay race during the World Para Snow Sports Championships at Birkebeineren Ski Stadium in Lillehammer, Norway.
Ⓒ Alex Livesey/Getty Images
By Teddy Katz | For the IPC

For Oksana Masters, Beijing 2022 will be her sixth Paralympics and she says these Games are the most special ones to date because she’s been given a second chance.

“I feel like this is literally going to be my Paralympic journey as an athlete coming full circle. I wanted to get to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games so bad. And I failed to make it.” 

At that time, Masters was competing in rowing. She had only just heard about the Paralympics a few years prior, and it quickly became her dream to get to China.

“It would’ve have been so easy for me to listen to the coach at the time [who told me] it's an unrealistic thing. I'm too small. I’m never going to be an athlete. [But] instead, it just motivated me to prove them wrong.”

Masters has since gone on to excel in both summer and winter Paralympics and is now a 10-time Paralympic medallist in multiple sports.


She describes her journey as being full of what she calls extreme highs and lows.

The highest high came this past summer winning two gold medals in cycling at Tokyo 2020. She says, that was such a special moment because of the challenges she overcame from her lowest low that occurred in the lead up.

“My lowest moment came 100 days out from Tokyo when I suddenly found out I needed to have surgery to remove a tumour on my leg that was potentially going to ruin my athletic career.”

Masters has had her fair share of surgeries in her life. But this one was different because sport was on the line. Sport, she says, has become her entire life - her identity. Masters was not willing to go down without a fight. 


Masters was born in Ukraine three years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. The radiation from that event she says caused birth defects in utero for her birth mom. Masters was born with six toes on each foot and webbed fingers and was given up for adoption. 

Growing up, she was told she couldn’t do many things and she started to believe it too.

She was adopted as a young girl from the orphanage and her new American mom brought her to the United States to start a new life. As a teenager, Masters had to have both of her legs amputated above the knee, so she’s gotten used to having to be resilient. But the news just before Tokyo hit her extremely hard.

“That's the difficult part about being adopted and having so many birth defects that are related to something that you just don't know and [that’s been] growing for a long time. I wasn’t scared that I had the tumour…  [ I was scared that if I ]  wanted to continue to be an athlete, my only option would be to amputate my leg above my hip.”

In the end, doctors were able to do a bone graft instead and removed some lymph nodes. Masters made a quick recovery that saw her on top of the podium in cycling in Tokyo and now she’s hoping to do the same in Para Nordic skiing in Beijing.

TAKING AIM: Oksana Masters competes during the Para Biathlon Sitting Women's 6km at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.


It’s rare for any athlete to qualify for both the summer and winter Paralympics. It’s even rarer to compete in both games just six months apart because of the global pandemic.

“That kind of puts the six-month turnaround from Tokyo to Beijing into perspective for me. It's not as hard as coming back from recovering from surgery to remove a tumour.”

In the basement of her home, Masters has built what she says is a bare bones gym with weights and a tiny shooting range where can fire off ammunition and practice hitting the target for biathlon.


The gym is not as fancy as ones some of her teammates have built. Hers is surrounded by pink insulation and her hot water tank in an unfinished basement.

She trains there with her boyfriend, Aaron Pike, who is competing in Para Nordic Skiing for the US team in Beijing after he participated in Tokyo as well in Para Athletics.

“It's one of those things that you do as an athlete, especially with that condensed window. (Our gym) is not perfect. But we haven’t been able to shoot outdoors because of COVID. All the indoor shooting ranges were shut down.”

Masters says it helps to train alongside Pike. She says he is a more accurate and faster shooter who really pushes her.

“I just try to keep up with him, which never ends up good for me. I'm not a good shooter at all. It’s just something that I think we're lucky to have. Because otherwise, when I'm training for cycling, I’m 100 per cent by myself.”


The lead up to Beijing has been different in another way for Masters.

In her early days in Para Nordic skiing when she was training for her first winter games in Sochi, the team didn’t have a lot of resources and she relied on her American mother to help fund her to get to the games.

“Just before Sochi, I didn't have the heart to tell my mom, I ran out of money. I slept out of my broken-down car that did not have much insulation. I was living on a box of spinach and rolling it in a ball and trying to chew as slow as possible to try to stay fuller and to make it last longer.”

Now she pinches herself seeing how much things have changed.

She says it’s “wild” to see global brands such as Toyota now backing the team and the Paralympics. She has even been asked to be a fashion model for celebrity Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS brand, clothes designed for different body types.

“We're at a point where Kim Kardashian’s line SKIMS is willing to make someone like me someone with prosthetic legs, something that looks different, isn't the ideal version of what we think is perfect, be visible and seen.”

She adds, “It's everything that I wish I could have seen as a 14-year-old girl when the doctors told me they had to amputate my second leg. I wish I could have seen that there were going to be these opportunities beyond that. That I was going to be seen as powerful, strong and beautiful.”

COUPLE GOALS: File photo of Paralympians Oksana Masters and Aaron Pike posing for a portrait during the Team USA 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games portraits in West Hollywood, California.


Masters is hoping to compete in Beijing in six individual events in Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon plus the relay.

The event she’s looking forward to the most is the 15-kilometre-long distance cross country race. She’s won a silver and a bronze in that event at past Paralympics but has her sights set on gold in Beijing.

The race in her category is a gruelling test of endurance where athletes are on their sit skis, using both ski poles and every ounce of energy in their arms and their core to power their way through the snow.

“I love it, because it's a long enough race that you can just kind of zone out and take your head out of your body, do what you've trained to do and go on autopilot.”


Masters lets her mind wander in that race.

She counts to ten over and over and recalls key moments in her life.

“I think about some of the (difficult) memories from the orphanage and about some of the really good memories as well. My last lap in every single race, I always think about my mom and every single huge moment that we live together. That just gives me my second wind.”