14 for 14: Oksana Masters, Nordic skiing

By Oksana Masters | Nov. 14, 2013, 8 a.m. (ET)

My name is Oksana Masters. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, I rowed to bronze medal with my partner Rob Jones in the trunk and arms mixed double sculls competition, becoming the first Americans to medal in that event.

I’m now focusing on Nordic skiing with the dream of competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Earlier this year, I was named to the 2013-14 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Development Team.

Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:

Oksana Masters and Rob Jones
Oksana Masters and partner Rob Jones, a retired U.S. Marine, won a bronze medal in rowing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

1. Rowing is my first love.

Before I started cross-country skiing, I started rowing. I was about 14. I was skeptical about the "adaptive" part of the rowing when I first started. At that time, I didn't want to do an adaptive sport just because I didn't want people to think having prosthetics means you're disabled and can only do adaptive sports. The moment I got out on the water, I was completely sold on it. I love anything that has to do with water. It is intense and yet so calming and peaceful at the same time.

2. I have always wanted to ski.

I will be honest. Before I came out to try cross-country skiing, I thought I would be trying downhill skiing. I didn't realize what I was there for. Instead of going down the hill, I was going to push myself up the hill. After trying it, I realized that I honestly would rather be doing cross-country than downhill.

3. You can't be afraid of failure.

From the first moment I got into a sit-ski, I did nothing but fall every 100 meters. I loved the toughness. It is not something that you just get lucky in. You have to train and spend hours on the snow. It is very similar to rowing in the sense that it is outside in the middle of nature on water, "frozen water". It is so intense but you still have to find that relaxed natural swing. Nordic skiing is definitely, in my opinion, the hardest sport. I love a good challenge and this is right up my alley.

4. Cold weather is a change for me.

I guess I have been spoiled rowing in the warm sun and getting a tan. It’s definitely a transition going from competing in sometimes triple digits, in rowing, to negative digits, in Nordic skiing. I guess I’m going to have to tap into my Ukrainian genes soon. I actually love cold weather but competing in it will be interesting.

5. I don't really have too many pre-race rituals.

Before a rowing race, I listen to Disturbed’s "Indestructible" while re-taping my oar handles. I also have a replica silver medal from the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games that my family found in my grandmother’s jewelry box after my grandfather passed away. At that time, I’d been rowing for about 10 years but no one knew that a rowing medal ever existed. I am somewhat superstitious so I put that medal inside my shoes in the boat for all my big races especially at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Of course, no day and race starts without my coffee. I am still knew to Nordic so I will have to wait for any new pre-race rituals to come along.

6. I'm not "Bad Company" on the snow.

My rowing partner Rob Jones and I call ourselves "Bad Company". On the Nordic team, the "Roxy" nickname has kind of caught on with some of the biathlon coaches.

Oksana Masters poses for ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue
In 2012, Oksana Masters posed for ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue.

7. I was in the Body Issue.

The biggest reason I wanted to be a part of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue was to hopefully break the mold. I want to change the perception of what the public thinks beauty is.  These days there is so much pressure from media for young woman to think of beauty in a certain way. When I was younger, I struggled with my confidence because of that. I truly believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty comes in so many forms, so many different shapes, sizes and colors but there is nothing more beautiful to me than someone who is confident and happy in their own skin. Hopefully by me being part of the issue that message got through to some people.

8. I am for the most part a laid back person but I like getting my hands dirty.

When I was young, I went camping a lot, and would even camp out in the backyard of my house. If had more time, I would definitely want to be out in the nature doing something other than rowing or skiing. But I also have my girlie side where I love to shop and watch movies.

9. I have really have gotten into cooking lately.

My favorite thing to cook is breakfast. I love breakfast, especially for dinner. But I have been told that I can make killer mashed potatoes. I can’t guarantee they will be healthy but they will be delicious.

10. I was born in Khmelnitsky, Ukraine.

Khmelnitsky is a city in the middle of a country, which was then a part of the Soviet Union. I lived in three different orphanages in Ukraine until I was adopted at age 7 by my mom.

11. I actually knew about my adoptive mom when I was 5 years old.

When I was young, Ukraine closed foreign adoptions, like Russia recently did, because there was a baby selling scandal. After two and a half years of waiting, my mom was able to adopt me when I was age 7-and-a-half. I was the first child adopted by an American since the closing of adoptions in Ukraine.  

12. Toys?

After I was adopted, I moved to Buffalo, N.Y. It was amazing. One thing that was really different was the toys I had. I never knew what toys really were because we never had them in the orphanage. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. My mom told me when I was younger, my first few months in America, I didn't know that other kids had toys. I assumed they did not and I was the only one. I tried to give some of my toys to my friends. Soon after my mom caught on, she had to start checking my friends pockets before they left and explained to me that they definitely had lots of toys. 

13. I have an amazing family.

I couldn't imagine my life now without my mom. She truly is my hero and has saved my life. She has always bent over backwards to make me happy and make my dreams come true. I wouldn't be able to compete without her amazing love and support. She truly is the best mom in the world.

14. I have a problem.

I love Americanos and French presses. Some might even say that I’m addicted. It's pathetic but I can't live without coffee. I start every morning with some type of coffee.