CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — From Chernobyl to being a U.S. Paralympian, Oksana Masters is defying the odds set against her.
Her mother Gay, a Champaign native, adopted her from Ukraine in 1995; Gay was one of the first Americans to be able to adopt a Ukrainian child after the Ukrainian government reopened adoptions.
She never imagined that she would be raising a Paralympic athlete.
Oksana had several medical issues and birth deformities that doctors believe were caused by exposure to radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986; the disaster happened three years before Oksana was born.
She was born without a tibia, had webbed fingers and no teeth enamel. Her legs were later amputated, a needed surgery to give her a shot at a normal life.
Gay said that her daughter exceeded any expectations society could have placed on her, and she is filled with pride.
“It’s been part of what has driven her to become an athlete,” Gay said. “I didn’t raise an athlete, I thought I was just raising a typical girl.”
Gay said this Paralympic season has been tough on Oksana as she watches her home country and people suffer.
“I have to say, if you had any doubt before with what is happening in Ukraine right now, you can see how resilient and strong the Ukrainian people are,” Gay said.
Oksana too has remained resilient in Beijing. She’s raced in three events and medaled in all of them, winning one gold and two silvers in para cross-country skiing and para biathlon.
She has four more races left in her 2022 Paralympics schedule. Gay is heading to a watch party in Utah where she hopes to watch Oksana win more medals with fellow Team USA parents.