Published on Jun 21, 2012
A dream is about to become reality for a Louisville woman who is headed to the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Oksana Masters, 23, has a lot of fans in Louisville, who are certain she has the drive, ambition and most of all, the courage to bring a medal back home to the Bluegrass.
Taking a boat out has become a full time job for Masters. "We are on the water six out of seven days a week," she said.
Her journey began on the mighty Ohio and soon it will move to Dorney Lake in England, the site of all rowing events for the 2012 summer games.
"I don't think it really hit me and I don't think it has still hit me," Masters said. "It's London, that it's the games and it's the big goal I've been training for, for six years."
Masters and her coach, Bob Hurley, are hoping to power her all the way to gold.
"She always said she wanted to be an Olympian, so here she is," Hurley smiled.
It will not be easy. The sport is full of tough competitors, requires major muscular endurance and the other thing? Neither Masters nor her rowing partner, United States Marine Rob Jones, have legs.
"I was born with legs, but they were so deformed," she explained.
Born in the Ukraine, Masters' birth defects were caused by exposure to a nuclear power plant. "In my village, they actually had frequent leaks, the radiation would just leak out," she said.
Severe pain led to the amputation of her legs. Still, she refused to be a helpless child. "Even when I was in the orphanage and someone said, don't do this," she remembered, "I would have to do it myself anyway, so it's kind of like in me," she laughed.
Adopted at age seven, Masters later moved to Louisville and tried adaptive rowing as an eighth grader. At first, she wasn't into it. "I told my mom, I'm not adaptive," she remembered. "I said, I don't want to do an adaptive sport that's labeled as adaptive."
But then, she got in the water. She loved its serenity and its power. She got the motion down and her winning attitude followed.
"I just love competing and being the best and just winning," Masters said.
It must be in the water. Her partner lost his legs after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2010. But like Masters, he never looked back. Their rowing mixed doubles team beat Brazil to win the World Cup in Serbia qualifying for the Paralympics.
Now in this complete team sport, known as Trunk and Arm Rowers, the two will give it their all for 5/8ths of a mile.
"You just go for it," Hurley said. "All out for one thousand meters and it's four minutes of the most grueling thing you'll ever do!"
"I'm so excited and I get goose bumps thinking about it. Obviously, I smile like a big cheesy kid," said Masters.
Masters leaves Thursday to train with her partner in Virginia.
She also has a lot of friends at Frazier Rehab where she began her training workouts. The Adaptive Sports Program there is helping Masters finance that training.
"What we have set up is the Frazier Paralympic fund where people can donate money to support her journey as well as well as future Olympians and paralympians," said Jill Farmer who works with the Adaptive Sports Program.
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