Chernobyl radiation took away her legs, she grew up in an orphanage where she was abused, but overcame adversity and is a Paralympic medalist

Oksana Masters during the 2020 Laureus Awards in Berlin (Reuters)
Oksana Masters during the 2020 Laureus Awards in Berlin (Reuters)

“The passage of time has told me that we never finish getting over our past… and that’s okay. It’s okay to keep processing, keep remembering and sharing. Survival is not something you win in and then magically over. There is no single way to go, no recipe to follow. I think, with survival, it’s more like … a welfare state. You don’t ‘make it’. You only survive “

Oksana Masters was born in June 1989 in Ukraine, a nation that was still suffering the adverse effects of the explosion that destroyed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant three years ago. It was precisely the consequences of the radiation still present in various areas that irreparably affected his body: He had six toes on each foot, webbed fingers on each hand, no thumb, and his left leg was six inches shorter than his right. Also, their lower extremities lacked some bones so they could not bear his weight, something that over time was going to get worse. After several operations, the doctors understood that amputation of his legs below the knees was the most advisable.

His physical problems were not his only obstacle in life. After being born, she was referred to an orphanage where she spent seven years waiting to be adopted. The institution, Far from being a contemplative home for children who suffered from a lack of parental love, it was more like a prison where they suffered all kinds of abuse.

During her time as an orphan, she had to get used to walking through the cold and dark corridors of that gloomy building that forcibly became her home. There he spent entire days of hunger and suffered all kinds of abuse, from sexual to physical and psychological aggression: “At the orphanage, you associated sleeping with abuse, it really was that simple. It was impossible not to “, explained in a column published in The Players Tribune. “Most of the worst things happened late at night. Sometimes instead of being graphic, I just need to tell people a list of the things I can’t stand anymore: knives; lit cigarettes; metal chains. That will probably give you some image. “

Oksana Masters is a sports lover and practices surfing, shooting, cycling, skiing and rowing among others.
Oksana Masters is a sports lover and practices surfing, shooting, cycling, skiing and rowing among others.

Despite everything, Oksana Masters has managed to succeed in the United States, where she landed after being adopted by Gay Masters, who fought for two years to legally become her mother and it was she who made her know the world of rowing, where she reached success as an athlete. “My mother, who adopted me and then raised me, alone, as a single mother. My mom, who bothered me and didn’t give in until I agreed to try this adaptive rowing program. My mom, who taught me to remember and forget. My mother, who has opened so many doors of life for me, so that I could go through them and fall in love with the world. My mom, that’s the reason why I’m here”.

Many years later, as an adult living in the United States, she decided to tell her story through a video to inspire those who are going through adverse situations similar to those she has already overcome. Due to the repercussion that that piece published on his social networks had at the beginning of 2020, he now wrote a column in The Players Tribune as a review of how he lived this time where his story is no longer a secret.

“I kept thinking about the other women, and other children, and everything that has happened, and how meaningful my story could be to them. I kept thinking about how important it could be for them to see me, not just intact, but alive and well. Not as an object of pity, but as an example of strength. As a woman who has gained power on the other side of her trauma and who deserves to be known, not as the sum of their experiences, but as the sum of their actions, “he wrote at the time.

With almost 30 years he has become a figure of American sports and this year he plans to be at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. In London 2012 he won the bronze medal in rowing, the first for his country’s delegation in that discipline, he was also a cyclist in Rio 2016 and part of the ski team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“My body has a power that should never be underestimated”

Oksana Masters won the Paralympic bronze medal in London 2012 (Facebook: Oksana Masters USA)
Oksana Masters won the Paralympic bronze medal in London 2012 (Facebook: Oksana Masters USA)

In his letter to victims of various abuses, whom he invites to be strong and not to give up, he also left a special message to people he has not yet met: “I have been dreaming of the day when I will meet my biological family. In my head, I hated them so much. I used to spend a lot of time wondering why someone would do this to me. Why abandon me and leave me alone? What did I do wrong?. But now that I’m older, I know it’s a lot more complicated. There is so much in his version of the story that I don’t know. I know they didn’t have many resources. I know they were just trying to survive, in their own way. I would still like to meet them.

Due to the interventions to which she was subjected as a child and the mistreatment in the orphanage, Oksana Masters has a body full of scars, which she understands as part of her history and sees them as tattoos that she did not choose to immortalize on her skin. In this universe of ink, he plans to draw on his back the air trip he made at the age of 7, from Ukraine to Buffalo, which is the beginning of the path that he still travels and whose future is unknown, although he hopes that his parents biologicals are part of it.

“That was such a long journey… and I think it would mean a lot to have a tattoo on the idea of ​​completing the circle. About where I’ve been and how that got me to where I am. And where am I going. Like I said, it’s not finished … and who knows how it will end. But it’s something, right? It is coming. It’s a start. I’d still like to meet them. I’d still like to complete that piece of the puzzle. “


Andriy Shevchenko, the Ballon d’Or who escaped the horror of Chernobyl


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