(Cover and story photos credit: Oksana Masters Twitter @OksanaMasters)
Dr. Mary A. Hums, University of Louisville Sports Administration Degree Program, @mahums
This summer, thousands of the world’s most elite athletes will head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – twice!
Of course, most of us are familiar with the Summer Olympic Games, the 16 Days of Glory featuring 10,000+ athletes from around the world. What you might not be as familiar with, however, are the elite international athletes who will be competing in Rio two weeks after the Olympic Games conclude. They are the 4,000 talented athletes of the Summer Paralympic Games.
The Summer Paralympic Games include a wide variety of sports including archery, boccia, cycling, fencing, goalball, rowing, seven-a-side soccer, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field, triathlon, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis. How good are they? Let me pose a question – how many of you could run the 100 meters dash in 10.77? Maybe a handful of you – but could you do so on two prosthetic legs? Could you swim 100 meters in less than 58 seconds – while totally blind?
These examples illustrate the elite level of competitors of the Paralympic Games. They live with specific physical disabilities including spinal cord injuries, amputations, visual impairments, or having short stature. A number of them are injured military service veterans. Some compete using racing chairs or prosthetic limbs, but many others need no assistive devices at all.
The bottom line is they are all elite athletes representing their countries at the highest level. They are, in essence, Olympians.
This summer, we are in for a special treat at the Paralympic Games as one of Louisville’s most talented international athletes, Oksana Masters, will represent the United States in the sport of road cycling. She is Atherton High School’s most decorated international athlete, and she has an incredible story.
When Masters was born in the Ukraine, both of her legs were already damaged from radiation poisoning. It was a likely consequence of in-utero exposure after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident, necessitating the amputation of her legs at a young age. Growing up in an orphanage until she was seven years old, she was later adopted by Gay Masters, a current University of Louisville Health Sciences Campus employee.
Oksana’s new life in her new country provided the opportunities to develop into a multi-sport athlete. She has already successfully represented Team USA at two previous Paralympic Games in two different sports. At the 2012 London Summer Paralympic Games, she won a bronze medal in rowing with her teammate Rob Jones. At the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games, she brought home silver and bronze medals in cross-country skiing.
As recognition of her accomplishments, Masters was also a nominee for the 2016 ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. She is one incredibly talented athlete!
So what will the Rio Paralympic Games hold in store for Masters in her new sport of road cycling? The coming weeks will give us plenty to look forward to as we update you on Oksana’s journey. Everyone here at Louisville Women Sports Network wishes her all the best in her Games preparation!
Mary A. Hums, PhD, @mahums
Professor, Sport Administration
University of Louisville
“Using the power of sport to inform, empower, transform”