To be a great athlete is to be strong, resilient, passionate, and an inspiration to those around you.
All of these describe 8x US Paralympic Medalist Oksana Masters, who is soon to be the well-deserved face of Oakley’s all-new campaign launch, focusing on her incredible story. Born in Ukraine with physical defects Oksana was given up for adoption at birth. Since then, she found her love and talent for cross-country skiing and road cycling in the US, shooting her way to paralympic stardom. The Knockturnal had the honor of talking to Oksana about her career and experiences as well as the new campaign. See the exclusive interview below!
The Knockturnal: Very soon we will be seeing you as the face of the newest Oakley campaign, you have been recognized as an inspiration to so many. Tell us a little about this campaign and what you hope to inspire within it!
Oksana Masters: I’m so proud to be featured in this campaign. Not only am I proud to be an Oakley athlete, but it’s also an amazing feeling to be featured in such a unique and meaningful campaign. The campaign is meant to unite athletes, no matter the discipline, around our collective Love of Sport. All of us athletes have an incredible passion for sport, and we hope to inspire athletes of all levels and ALL abilities around the world.
The Knockturnal: At the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, you were the winner of the very first United States medal in trunk and arms mixed double sculls. How did it feel to be the recipient of this honor? How did you feel in the moment?
Oksana Masters: It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s every athlete’s dream to compete and achieve at the highest level, so winning Bronze in 2012 was an incredible milestone especially when I’ve been told it’s an unrealistic goal I set for myself. I’m so happy to have achieved this feat and to be permanently recognized with the honor.
The Knockturnal: You began rowing in 2002, what made you realize that this was your calling? Was it the same feeling when you began skiing or were they different?
Oksana Masters: The moment I stepped onto the dock, took my prosthetic leg off, pushed away from the dock leaving my fake leg behind I felt speed and freedom for the first time without my prosthetic. It is the same feeling when I leave my legs behind me when I ski and ride my bike. It’s a feeling that is so hard to put into words. The only thing I knew is my heart felt like it was home and in the right place.
The Knockturnal: Shortly after taking up rowing, you had your right leg amputated. How did this affect your process?
Oksana Masters: I’m not going to lie. Losing my right leg (my only leg I had left) I struggled mentally and physically. I hated what I saw in the mirror, there were complications from the surgery which forced me to spend 6+ months stuck to a bed. The only thing that would put a smile on my face was the thought of getting back on the water. Sports became an outlet for me to release my anger, confession, and also taught me to love myself, love my body and appreciate how resilient and strong my body is at adapting.
The Knockturnal: What was the switch like as you began to do this competitively? Was there still that same passion that you had all along, or was your process different?
Oksana Masters: When I made the switch to becoming more competitive, my passion for the sport drove me. I was told I would never make it at the highest competitive level of sports because I was too small, and that fueled me. The transition to becoming more competitive was challenged me. There were days that made me question myself and my abilities, but I never questioned my passions for the sport. On those days when I felt like I was moving backwards, it was my passion that made me want to get up the next day and do it again.
The Knockturnal: You’ve overcome so many struggles and setbacks within your career and your life, yet you’ve become so successful and you are incredibly admirable! How did you overcome these setbacks, and how did they shape you into the person and athlete that you are today?
Oksana Masters: All the setbacks I faced in my personal life and athletic career have taught me to be resilient. Through all of my setbacks, I learned to embrace them, and the challenges they bring. I have grown as a person and athlete because of my setbacks, and I fought to overcome. Life is messy. There will be highs and lows. You can’t have one without the other. In my athletic career and as a person, I love challenges because I see them as opportunities to grow and become better.
The Knockturnal: Do you have any advice for people who want to follow your path?
Oksana Masters: My advice for people who want to follow my path is: ‘The most important thing is have fun and enjoy it. There’s so much freedom in sports. There will be challenging days with either equipment malfunctions, flat tires or things beyond your control. Stay focused on what you can control and maximize those moments.’
The Knockturnal: After your rowing career you went on to cross country skiing, winning your first Paralympic gold medal at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. What was that moment like for you?
Oksana Masters: I have competed in rowing, cycling, cross country skiing and biathlon at the Paralympic Games. It took 4 Paralympic Games and 8 years of competing to finally win my first Paralympic Gold Medal. That moment when I finally get to stand on top of the podium holding, touching, and kissing my first gold medal is hard to really express. All I could think of was the people who supported me and helped me bring home the Gold. It literally takes a village to be the best athlete and I had an incredible team behind me – I wish they could’ve all stood on the podium with me. A feeling and moment I will never forget and will never be able to put into the right words.
The Knockturnal: What struggles did you encounter throughout your life on your journey to the Paralympics, and how did you overcome them?
Oksana Masters: My journey to the Paralympics was definitely not the smoothest. I slept out of my car leading into Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games because I ran out of money. I failed a lot, I fell a lot on skis and on the bike. Often as an adaptive athlete, our equipment is unique to the athlete. In cycling I especially struggled with my equipment. Sometimes it’s not you that fails, but things out of your control can affect your journey. One of my biggest struggles was when I made the choice to compete at the Paralympics was that only 2 people believed in me; my mom and my rowing coach. I loved training and I love my sports and I knew those moments would not be there forever. I wanted to prove to society what the human body is capable of achieving through hard work. As I progressed and started having success in sports I started getting more and more support from those around me. My motivation switched from proving others wrong, to wanting to set an example for the next generation of kids, regardless if they are para-athletes or not. I wanted to show what is truly possible through hard work, love, and passion
The Knockturnal: If you could say anything to your past self about your journey, what would it be?
Oksana Masters: Don’t ever doubt yourself. In those moments when no one else does; continue to believe in yourself. Trust the process and most importantly enjoy the journey and all the U-turns, twists, bumps, and forks throughout the journey. Those are the moments you learn what you’re capable of – it’s anything with hard work and passion.
The Knockturnal: You’ve been recognized many times for your inspiring story and unmatched talent, you have been nominated 6 times for an ESPY for your skiing and your story is featured in sports illustrated, spirit and southwest airlines inflight magazine, as well as so many others. How does it feel to have these honors?
Oksana Masters: Honestly it feels good having my hard work recognized in such a positive light. But what I am most thankful for is how sports have helped make a platform where my voice can be heard and allows my sports to be seen. Most importantly, a little girl or boy who may look different will never have to spend years wondering what is possible; there was never a person I looked up to that looked like me. Everyone deserves to dream, especially kids. If I help inspire the next generation or a little girl or boy who is facing the same challenges as that I did, that makes me the most grateful.
Keep an eye out for Oksana in the newest Oakley campaign!