To say that Oksana Masters has an incredible story is an understatement. At 26, she’s already a three time medalist in rowing and cross-country skiing. She’s been training hard for the games in Rio de Janeiro later this Summer.
And by the way, she competes in the Paralympics.
The May series, I’m Open To That, has taken a look at ways we can be flexible and adapt to the world around us while maintaining our authenticity. But how can you adapt when there’s nothing but roadblocks in your way?
Oksana had a hard start. It’s likely her birth mother suffered from radiation poisoning following the nuclear spill at Chernobyl. Oksana arrived at a Ukranian orphanage with webbed fingers, no thumbs, six toes on each foot, a single kidney, and only part of her stomach.
She painfully remembers how the orphanage workers would put a bow in her hair whenever prospective parents would visit. No one wanted to take her home.
Enter Gay Masters, a Buffalo speech pathologist. As she flipped through a Ukranian adoption notebook, she saw 5-year old Oksana.
Gay had her own version of “I’m open to that.” She recalled thinking, “That was my daughter. I couldn’t abandon her.”
Gay kept pressing, even as the Ukranian government suspended foreign adoptions. Two and half years later, she got the call. At 11:30 at night, she took now 8-year old Oksana home.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment. In addition to her birth defects, Oksana was severely underweight at 35 pounds. Moved from one orphanage to another, her education was nominal. She spoke no English. Nevertheless, Oksana and Gay persevered.
I’m open to that.
Getting healthier had a cruel side effect: her legs were drastically different lengths and could no longer support her body weight. Amputations below the knee followed – for her left leg at age 9, and for her right leg at 14.
In spite of the surgeries, Oksana began to pursue rowing. Suddenly, body and soul were engaged in what she describes as “a healing from my past.”
I’m open to that.
At the 2012 London Paralympics, she partnered with former Marine Rob Jones, who had lost both legs in an Afghanistan IED explosion. They came home with the bronze medal. Her Mom said, “I kept saying: Is it really true? Is it really true? It’s just indescribable, how amazing it was.”
Oksana wasn’t finished. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, she brought home the silver and bronze medals in cross-country skiing.
Who would have thought that Oksana would have thrived, let alone become a champion athlete? Her story is filled with seemingly random choices, but saying yes – to life in America, repeated operations followed by months in rehab, and learning how to row and ski – put her on her authentic path.
Your story may not be as dramatic, but you may be feeling exhausted by too many twists and turns. This week, take Oskana Masters as your role model and be just as unstoppable. There may be a miracle or two, even a small one, that has your name on it.