Daughter of Louisville physician to go for gold at 2014 Winter Paralympics

Published on March 6, 2014

A young woman from Louisville who has battled to overcome incredible physical challenges will be going for gold in the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, this week with her mother by her side. 

Oksana Masters, 24, daughter of UofL Physicians’ own Dr. Gay Masters, will be competing in five Nordic skiing events - three in cross-country and two in biathlon.

She already has one Paralympic medal, a bronze in rowing (mixed double sculls) from the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. She’s one of just six U.S. athletes from the Summer games to also make the Winter Paralympics.

“My mom has been my inspiration,” said Oskana. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s always been so supportive of me.”

Dr. Masters adopted Oksana from a Ukrainian orphanage in January 1997 when she was 7 years old. Oksana had been abandoned there by her parents after she was born with tibial hemimelia, which left her with different leg lengths; an absence of weight-bearing shinbones; five webbed fingers instead of four fingers and a thumb; six toes on each foot; and just one kidney. Both of her legs eventually had to be amputated above the knee. To compete in skiing, she has a special sled and her ski poles have to be taped to her hands.

“I am so very proud of her,” said Dr. Masters, a speech pathologist. “She’s worked so hard to get here. She’s always been the type that, when you tell her ‘no,’ she will find a way to make it a yes.”

Oskana’s condition is believed to be a result of her birth mother’s exposure to radiation from a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Her birthplace of Khmelnitskyy is just a few hours from Chernobyl.

What makes Oksana’s achievement of qualifying for the Winter Paralympics even more remarkable is that she has only been skiing since late 2012, when she met one of the coaches of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic ski team and was invited to a camp in Colorado to try the sport. Oskana’s skills and talent from rowing made her a natural at skiing, and soon after she began to compete. She gained attention by medaling at the International Paralympic Committee World Cup just a few months after first learning to ski.

Follow Dr. Masters and Oksana in Sochi

As she competes in Sochi, the team at UofL Physicians will be cheering Oksana on. We will be following her progress and posting daily updates on the UofL Physicians website (UofLphysicians.com), Facebook page and Twitter feed (@UofLPhysicians), and Dr. Masters will be blogging about their experience there.

The opening ceremonies will be held March 7, with Oksana’s first event on Saturday, March 8. She will be competing in the cross-country 6k, 12k and 1k sprint, and the biathlon. The games end March 16.

About Dr. Gay Masters

Gay Masters, Ph.D., joined UofL Physicians in 2001 from the University of Buffalo in New York. She specializes in pediatric speech and language disorders, working with children with language deficiencies, often as a result of an auditory processing disorder. When she is not seeing patients, she is an assistant professor in speech pathology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She learned of Oksana in June 1995 through a friend who had adopted a child at her Ukrainian orphanage. In January 1997, Dr. Masters was able to bring Oksana to the United States.

About Oksana

After Oksana tried skiing, she stayed in Winter Park, Colo., to further learn the sport, and in her first year of competition, won a bronze medal in 5km cross-country at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup in Canmore, Alberta. In January 2014 at the U.S. Paralympics National Championships in Midway, Utah, Oksana won national titles in the 5k and 10k cross-country races and the 6k biathlon, and was second in the cross-country sprint. She then won bronze again at the 2014 IPC World Cup Final in Oberstdorf, Germany, this time in the 12k cross-country.

To learn more about Oksana, go to:

Team USA:

Sports Illustrated: