Oksana Masters and her mom, Gay masters share the beautiful story of how they found each other when she was only seven years old.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 20, 2023. It has since been updated.
Oksana Masters' childhood dates back to Ukraine in 1989 where she has plenty of memories as a child. Not all of them are pleasant. She was uncared for and abandoned. It all started with the deadly Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Oksana who lived about 200 miles away from Chernobyl and stood at only 36 inches tall and weighed 35 pounds at the time. She was born with one kidney, a half stomach, six toes on each foot, webbed fingers on each thumbless, lacked shinbones in both of her legs, and her left leg was six inches shorter than her right. She was given up for adoption by her biological family and lived in three orphanages before she was adopted at the age of seven by Gay Masters, a single American woman. After a difficult two-year procedure, Masters brought her to the US, reports, The Guardian. Today, she's a multi-sport paralympic athlete.
Her mother, Gay Master talked about the first time she saw Oksana in Courier Journal. "I had intended to adopt an infant because I know through my line of work how important the first year is for development," said Gay, "but then I was given a black and white photograph of this little girl, there was a sparkle in her eyes and I knew, even though this child was not who I had set out to find, this was my daughter." Back then Gay was advised by a speech pathologist at the University of Louisville not to adopt a girl of that girl and especially with that many physical challenges. But Gay shunned everyone and did what she wanted to do.
Upon hearing this, Gay said that the orphanage had shown little Oksana a picture of her mom and said that she would come and get her. For 24 months Gay worked through all the adoption paperwork while Oksana waited patiently for her and take her away. "If I did something wrong, the orphanage would tell me the American woman didn't want a bad child and she wasn't coming," recalled Oksana. Gay did come back and Oksana's tiny eyes fluttered when she recognized the face. "I know who you are; you are my mother," she pulled a picture of Gay which was kept safe on the bedside table. Oksana smiles at their contrasts as she speaks of her early years with Gay in America."Oh yeah, my mom and I were very different; she loves books and I loved to climb trees."
Oksana was very quick in terms of mobility so learning to walk and run with her prosthetics was fairly easier for her. She had multiple surgeries reconstructive surgeries in America to better the use of both of her hands. "I had figured out by that point that sports were a kind of therapy for her and I signed her up for horseback riding lesson," Gay said. "I told her it was a state law in Kentucky that everyone learned how to ride a horse." For Oksana, sports were her escape and her therapy saying, "I didn't like the idea of a sport that was geared towards people with disabilities," she said. "I wanted to feel like everyone else."
Moreover, Oksana discussed the persistent physical, mental, and sexual abuse she underwent in Ukraine in "Survivor", a video that was published on the Players' Tribune website. “I just thought I would be able to help other girls, other kids who live in orphanages who went through this and didn’t know how to heal. And the power of sport – that’s what sports gave me, it gave me my way to heal and let everything out and find myself and rediscover myself in a positive way. And change the narrative of my story” she says. “If my story could help in some way shine a light into one specific orphanage or a system and changes those kids’ lives forever, then, I can’t even put into words how much that would mean to me.”