Oksana Masters is one of the most recognized female Paralympic athletes and her journey in life and sports is truly inspirational. Her odyssey started in an orphanage in Ukraine, and through determination, passion and hard work, Masters achieved her dream of earning Paralympic gold in PyeongChang.
Masters is a multi-sport athlete, competing in biathlon, cross-country skiing, handcycling and rowing. She has competed in four Paralympic Games since 2012, winning a total of eight medals. Her dominance over the last 12 months in biathlon and cross-country skiing has earned her the honor of being named the 2018 Individual Sportswoman of the Year. She is the second para athlete SOY winner since the inception of the award in 1980.
Masters’ ascent to the top began during the 2017-18 World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup circuit, where she finished with eight gold and two silver medals. Her victories continued at the 2018 Paralympic Games, where she earned five medals, including two golds and one bronze in cross-country skiing and two silvers in biathlon, all while competing with an elbow injury. Masters is currently ranking No. 1 in the women’s sitting classification in both cross-country skiing and biathlon by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and was nominated for the 2018 ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
In order to fully appreciate the significance of Masters’ accomplishments, one must look to her humble origins and the challenges she overcame at the beginning of her life. Masters was born in 1989, about 200 miles from Chernobyl, just three years after the nuclear disaster there. She was missing the main weight-bearing bone in both legs that resulted in bilateral amputations. However, Masters’ legacy is not how she succeeded despite her disability, but that she did not define herself as disabled. Rather, she surmounted and honed her amazing skills en route to becoming a dominant multi-sport athlete.
Apart from competing at the highest levels in sports, Masters is determined to inspire and become a role model for all people, with or without disabilities. Her unifying message is that everyone has the capacity to overcome adversity and that aspirations and dreams are attainable – it is simply a matter of effort.
Every year, at our Annual Salute to Women in Sports, we recognize an individual sport athlete and team sport athlete whose performances over a 12-month time span have been exceptional. Past winners include Katie Ledecky, Michelle Kwan, Simone Biles, Missy Franklin and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Simply put: our Sportswoman of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious in the game. Learn more here.