Wheelchair Sports Federation | Adaptive Sports Organization
Oksana Masters: The Woman with the Golden Gun Print E-mail
Written by Josh Eisenberg   

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — She’s leaving people in the dust. This is the tale of adapted rowing, para cycling, cross-country skiing and biathlon para-athlete, Oksana Masters. Truth be told, the life of Paralympic stardom almost never happened for her.

The date was April 25, 1986. Three years before her birth, Oksana’s biological mother was living just outside Chernobyl, Ukraine, the home of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of man. Oksana’s birth mother was exposed to radiation, and because of it her body chemistry was completely altered.

Danny Chin - Omega Photo StudiosOksana Masters poses for the cameras prior to her Women’s 12km sitting Cross Country Ski event on March 11, 2018. Danny Chin – Omega Photo Studios

Skip ahead to June 19, 1989. Enter into the world Oksana Alexandrovna Bondarchuk. She was born in the Ukraine with several birth defects including webbed fingers and 6 webbed toes on each foot and C-shaped legs. Oksana was left for dead by her mother, only to end up in a Ukrainian orphanage.

At age 7, she was adopted by the woman that she calls mother, Gay Masters, a United States citizen, an educator. At the time, she was living in Buffalo, New York, working at the University of Buffalo. Gay Masters was to become a single mother to the orphaned Oksana. At the age of 13, Oksana, who was suffering from tibial hemimelia at the time due to radiation, had her legs surgically removed  and her hands changed, so they weren’t longer webbed. This gave Oksana a new lease on life.

“I was always a very active child, I thought the word ‘no’ never applied to me.” This was evident in her ventures with sports.

AU7I0737Oksana Masters competing in Biathlon on March 14, 2018 PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King

Shortly before she became an amputee, Oksana picked up the sport of rowing. She was good, or better yet, she was great. As a sculler, she set world records at Crash-B Sprints in 2010. Due to a back injury during the 2012 London Paralympics, where she got a bronze medal in rowing, Masters had to give up the sport. She now focuses her time on Para-Cycling in Summer and Cross Country Skiing in Winter. Just recently, she has picked up Biathlon… and won a silver medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games.  Oksana joked after the ceremony for her silver that potential husband candidates should watch out now that she knows how to shoot a weapon saying,

“Well, my boyfriend, he’s on the nordic team as well, and he cleaned as well, so we push each other really good. He’s a better shooter, but now that I stepped up to his level, yeah… he better start worrying a little bit.”

That silver medal and all the medals she has won in PyeongChang almost did not happen this Paralympic games. As it turns out, two weeks prior to the games, Oksana tore ligaments and partially fractured her elbow, making it very painful to hold a gun, let alone ski cross country style in a competition. She persevered, saying about her arm,

“It’s hanging in there, our U.S. medical staff has done an amazing job. I literally would not be here without them, the team at The Steadman Clinic. They basically fixed my arm in time just in time to get it through.”

Don’t catch her showing off her five medals though, Oksana describes herself as humble stating, “It’s usually my mom or my boyfriend who shows off and tells people about the medals.”

In fact, she doesn’t know where to keep all of her medals now that she is making a collection five in total, with four in PyeongChang: two golds, a silver and a bronze.

Oksana Masters gets goldOksana Masters receiving her gold medal for Cross Country Skiing’s 1.1km Sprint Event on March 11, 2018 PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chin – Omega Photo Studios

When not placing 4th and 5th for Para-Cycling (which is equally amazing), or Cross Country Skiing, or rowing, she is living in Louisville, Kentucky where her mother now teaches at the University of Louisville.  She lives there with one simple philosophy, which she says on twitter:

“To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Irreplaceable indeed. Team USA for the closing ceremony announced that she will be the flag bearer for the PyeongChang 2018 Games. She had this to say on twitter:

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 2.43.59 PM.png

Masters of her domain, a true pioneer in Paralympics and an enigma as a triple threat: Oksana is ready for an encore in Tokyo and Beijing.

BQ7I1151Oksana Masters celebrates her 2nd gold medal after racing in Cross County, March 17, 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Shannon Galea
 
Mia Zutter is Setting Her Own Pace for Success Print E-mail
Written by Candace Cable   

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea —Mia always wanted to be an athlete, from the moment that she and her sister Natalie were figure skating together, she knew that the freedom of movement that comes from and with the sport was for her. Even after she started having trouble with her vision by the fourth grade and was eventually diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a type of macular degeneration, Mia kept moving – setting her pace as an athlete.

In the seventh grade, when her vision was now, ‘like looking through sea glass’, she stopped figure skating and started running, trusting her sister to be her guide. Her Mother, Jenn said, “Mia is incredibly motivated, incredibly independent, slightly on the stubborn side, if she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it. She made it known early on that she wanted to do it alone, she didn’t want us marching into school meeting her teachers, holding her hand, no she was just going to do and she was going to figure out how to be an advocate for herself, that was 7th grade and in high school, she would inform us, but she took the lead.”

AU7I0397-2.jpgMia’s family ‘The Zutters’ cheering on her sprint race on March 14th. From Left to Right: Jen (Mother), Natalie (Sister) and Mike (father). PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King

Her parents were hands-off, letting her set the pace of how to adapt to this new way of being in the world. Sure Mia needed more support to find her way, but she dictated the terms and they all adjusted to her, not the other way around. Most of disabled people have to spend their lives living as the “only ones”, isolated. The ones that are different than the rest, the ones that are singled out, the only one in the room and they are considered “special”. That’s why Mia’s path, so far is a great metaphor for how inclusion should work for everyone. She lets the people around her know how they can adapt so she can thrive, be independent and successful.

AU7I0211.jpgMia and her guide Kristina hug after the 1.5km Classic Sprint. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King

It’s evident, when watching these two, Mia and Kristina Trygstad-Saari, that their relationship as skier and guide is based on clear communication, respect, and trust. These values have helped them create an environment that supports their mission of excellence in ski racing and to act as a team. “We work together as a team. I’m relying on her for all the information on the course. I can see a little bit but definitely I’m thinking about the most, is, what is she saying to me, so I can focus more on my technique and not so much worry about where I’m going”. “There’s definitely a lot of trust in that relationship especially when we’re flying down some big hills. I’m so grateful to Kristina – we have a great connection”. Mia revealed with a huge smile.

 

untitled-4194.jpgMia and Kristina ski in the Women’s visually impaired 15km freestyle. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King

 

This duo’s pace and timing coupled with Mia’s ability to mirror Kristina’s skiing technique create this exhilarating feeling, a certain calmness when one watches Mia cross country ski as if she is someone who has been skiing all their life and not just for two years. It will be a pleasure to watch Mia’s journey as she progresses during next four years. To be adventurous, to grow, to build a sense of identity of self is exactly what Mia is doing.

 

untitled-4137.jpgMia ski in the Women’s visually impaired long-distance freestyle race. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King
 
2018 Winter Paralympics: Recap Day 7: Snowboard and Biathlon Print E-mail
Written by John Hamre   

PYEONGCHANG, South KoreaThe rain began to fall on Thursday afternoon, turning to snow after midnight. The morning of the Friday March 16th Biathlon, the venue looked like an ideal winter wonderland postcard sent from Korea. A white layer of fresh unspoiled snow concealed the filthy, water-saturated base that the skiers would be traversing.

In this Paralympic Games, Team USA’s two most dominate women, Oksana Masters (4 medals) and Kendall Gretsch (2 medals) joined a field of 15 female sit skiers to brave a cold, snow swirling start of the 12.5km Biathlon race. The women had a 5 X 2.5km course to ski and made four trips to the shooting range. Oksana Masters, LW12, shot a clean (no missed shots) race today and just missed the gold medal by 18.8 secs to Andrea Eskau LW11 from Germany. The conditions were merciless for all the competitors, Kendall Gretsch unfortunately finished in 8th.

“I cannot ask for anything more for myself at all. I’ve never cleaned a four-stage race ever for the five years I’ve been doing this […] I never considered myself as a biathlete and now I can’t believe that it’s my second time on the podium for biathlon racing at the Paralympic Games” said Oksana after winning the race.

 

asset_SB5_4912_8867_ioc_2018-03-16_143244.jpgOksana Masters USA celebrates coming second in the Biathlon Sitting Women’s 12.5km at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre. The Paralympic Winter Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Friday 16th March 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Bruty for OIS/IOC.

 

In the men’s category, Navy shooter, Dan Cnossen from Topeka, KS did it again and claimed another silver medal adding to his growing collection of four medals at these Games. Three more competitors from the US entered the stadium with strong intentions, Andy Soule, LW12, two-time medalist in these Pyeongchang Games finishing 9th and Aaron Pike LW11.5 and four-time Paralympian in both Winter and Summer Games finishing 6th with a clean sweep of the targets and Ruslan Reiter in the standing group finishing 15th.

On Day 6 at the Jeongseon Alpine Center the weather was cold and dark but the venue was bustling with people out to watch the world’s top para snowboarding athletes from around the world compete in Banked Slalom. We had predicted that Team USA would take charge of the competition  and we were right! It was raining medals for Team USA in every category and for both men and women.

The Women’s LL1 category started strong with 22 year old Brenna Huckaby winning her second Gold here in PyeongChang. She had already secured the number one spot in Snowboard Cross earlier in the week. Amy Purdy said “I ended up borrowing a board here in PyeongChang and it worked out well”,  because she brought home a Bronze in Banked Slalom after her silver medal in Snowboard Cross. In the LL2 category for Women, Brittani Couri won her first medal at the Paralympics. She had been inspired to compete in para snowboarding after first witnessing it in Sochi in 2014.

For the men, Mike Minor was jubilant and won gold in the SB-UL category. Americans Noah Elliot and Mike Shultz dominated in the SB- LL1 men’s category and took Gold and Silver in spite of Mike Shultz not finishing his second run. The same tenacity was seen with Evan Strong successfully making it to the podium with a Silver medal after a disappointing experience in snowboard cross. It was an incredibly successful day for Team USA at Banked Slalom in PyeongChang.

 

asset_TL3_2946_9121_ioc_2018-03-16_143910.jpgKeith Gabel USA competes during the Snowboard Men’s Banked Slalom SB-LL2 run at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. The Paralympic Winter Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Friday 16th March 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Lovelock for OIS/IOC.
 
USA Sled Hockey Gives Italy “The Boot”: Will Face Canada for Gold Print E-mail
Written by Josh Eisenberg   

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The sky outside Gangneung Hockey Centre was grey and green, bleek. The winds were strong. The rain was starting to come down in buckets.  It was quite ugly. However, as bad as things were outside, inside for Team Italy, it was way worse. They had to meet up with a U.S. Sled Hockey Team that averaged over nine goals per game (9.333333 to be exact), and so far has allowed a meatball (that’s a big ol’ zero) into goal thanks to the play of Steve Cash and Jen Lee in goal along with the speed of the Team USA defense. The storm was brewing in the arena, and the forecast called for a trip to the finals with a chance of reign.

The first line was altered slightly for Team USA, as Declan Farmer was moved to the second line in place of Joshua Misiewicz, who scored two in the previous game against Korea. Team USA’s first line was again featured Brody Roybal, who in three games was had 8 goals in just 13 shots.

At 11:37, The United States put a “spicy meatball” in Italy’s basket making the score 1-0. It was #22 Noah Grove assisted by #15 Nikko Landeros at 3:23 into the first. Then there was another helping from Joshua Misiewicz at 3:53 and from Josh Pauls. Then moments later (4:09) Brody Roybal entered the stat sheet with Josh Pauls and Misiewicz on the assist. It was quickly 3-0.

Captain Pauls in the four games played at Gangneung Hockey Centre has 7 points, all assists.

“It’s great.” Said Josh Pauls, adding, “I’m happy to be contributing to the team, but i now that we have al ot of guys contributing whether it’s goals assists blocked shots, we are just hppy to have everyone contributing.”

Still in the first at 6:04, Italy’s Gian Lucia Cavaliere received a Teeing penalty and entered the box giving the United States a power play. Moments later, it became 4 on 4 with Joshua Misiewicz getting the interference call. Within 2 seconds of getting back to full strength it became 4-on-4 again when Andrea Macri of Italy got caught teeing his opponent. Team USA was on the Power play once again. After both teams were at full strength, Italy went back to the confines of the box. Euseblu Antochi whose offense was elbowing. Finally, the United States made them pay at the stick of Nikko Landeros who scored unassisted. And just because, Luke McDemott dotted the team’s metaphorical “I’s” and picked up a goal with 4.3 seconds left making it 5-0 and that’s how it stood at the end of one period.

With 8:00 to go in the 2nd period, Italy seemed to like the geography of the penalty box. And that was part of the game plan for Team Italy.

“After the first goal I said to the team that we have to play stronger,” said Italian head coach Massimo da Rin through an interpreter after the game. He continued, “When you play strong and ahrd you are going to have more penalties.”, adding,”We know that the USA has a strong team so we think that we have to play hard and start gettng penalties.”

Sandra Kalegaris was the next Italian sent for a short two minute vacation in the box for boarding. America was on the power play. Team USA and Brody Roybal (10) picked up the goal with 7:08 to play assisted by Joshua Misiewicz. Nikko Landeros (3) picked up his second of the day assisted by Tyler Carron and Declan Farmer. 7-0 USA. The score wouldn’t last as Declan Farmer added his first goal of the night and 9th overall with assists from Adam Page and Josh Pauls. 8-0 Team USA and that’s how it would end in the second period. Italy did not get a shot off in the period. After the 2nd, USA had 30 shots on goal compared to Italy’s 2.

1DX27067Team USA Assistant Captain Declan Farmer holds the puck away from an Italian player. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine

 

The third period picked up right where the USA left off in the second with just over 11 minutes left in the match, Kevin McKee scored his second of the games with assists from Noah Grove and Adam Page. The score was 9 to nothing. Then it happened. The unexpected. With 6:30 left after a power play, Italy scored a goal on Jen Lee of The United States (Steve Cash had been relieved after period one of play). The umpires didn’t even believe it. They had to ask for official review. It was Italy’s Valeria Corino from Christopher Denapoli. The score was 9-1.

“I actually thought they were quite intense, they played hard and they were frustrated, obviously.” Coach Guy Gosselin said, praising the effort of the oppositional Italian Sled Team.

The goal did not phase the USA Team in the least, in fact, Team USA was not done scoring. Brody Roybal added one more (his second of the day) and leads all scorers in the tournament with 10 goals overall. The final score was 10-1,

“If i get a good pass in the slot, then i am going to put it in the back of the ne We’re just out here to have fun.” Said Roybal, following the win.

The United States will face Canada for their share of gold on Sunday at Noon Korea Time.This is the first time that the teams will collide in a gold medal match in the Paralympic Games.

Said Captain Josh Pauls on the matchup he’s expecting: “It’ll be a fast and physical game, just like all the other games that we played against them this year and in past years. I mean they are a really good team but  so are we.”

1DX27311From Left To Right: Brody Roybal, Josh Pauls, Nikko Landeros and Joshua Misiewicz celebrating during the first period of the game vs. Italy. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine
 
PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympics: Day 5 in Pictures Print E-mail
Written by Staff   

Pyeongchang is officialy warm and despite the beachy temperatures the USA athletes competed in alpine and Nordic skiing taking several medals home. The best pictures of the day here.

AU7I0674.jpgOksana Masters competes in the women’s sitting cross-country sprint at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 14, 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King2018-03-14-01403.jpgTyler Carter blasts out of the start of the Men’s Giant Slalom. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chin

 

AU7I0211 (1).jpgMia Zutter and Guide Kristina Trygstad Saari after competing in the Women’s Sprint Race 1.1km. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken KingAU7I0901.jpgJake Adicoff races X from Norway in the Men’s 1.1km Sprint on March 14th, 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King

 

 

AU7I0834.jpgDan Cnossen competes in the Men’s Sprint Race 1.1km. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King2018-03-14-02137Tyler Walker competes in the men’s sitting giant slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 14, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chin2018-03-14-00126.jpgLaurie Stephens with the American flag during the Alpine Skiing Sitting Women’s Giant Slalom run 1 at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chin

 

2018-03-14-00548.jpgStephanie Jallen competes in the women’s standing giant slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 14, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Chinasset_TL1_8995_6816_ioc_2018-03-14_151422.jpgGrace Miller competes in the Women’s Cross Country Skiing Sprint Race. PHOTO CREDIT: Ken King
 
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