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A University of Louisville professor will be in Sochi to support her daughter, who is competing for the first time on the U.S. Winter Paralympic team

Dr. Gay Masters, a speech pathology professor and Louisville speech pathologist, adopted her daughter, Oksana, from an Ukrainian orphanage in 1997.  Oksana was just 7-years-old and had been abandoned, raped and beaten during stays at three different orphanages.

It’s believed that because of  her mother’s exposure to post-Chernobyl radiation, Oksana was born with severe leg abnormalities.  She had no weight-bearing shinbones, six toes on each foot and one leg was nearly five inches longer than the other.  Eventually, both of her legs had to be amputated.

“I knew before I adopted her that the doctors said that both legs would need to be amputated,” Masters said.  Still, she said it was a tough decision.

“When I met her,” Masters said.  “She could run, jump, ride a bike and do all kinds of stuff.  But she was in a lot of pain.”

Since the amputations, now 24-year-old Oksana has found success in athletics.  She began rowing when she was 13 and won a bronze medal in the sport at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.  At the 2014 National Championships for Paralympic Nordic Skiing, Oksana swept the field, placing first in the 10-kilometer, 5-kilometer and 1-kilometer races.

Still considered a newcomer to the sport of skiing, Oksana just started hitting the slopes less than two years ago.

“She stunk at first,” Masters said.  

“She’s had her struggles along the way, but she is the girl that if you say you can’t do it, she figures out a way to prove you wrong.”

It was Oksana’s toughness that has led her to be one of the most recognizable Paralympics athletes.  She was named U.S. Rowing’s Female Athlete of the Year for 2012, she has been featured in Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine’s ‘The Body” Issue in 2012.

Currently, Oksana hovers from 11th to 13th in the world for Nordic Skiing, Masters said.

“She’s almost top 10, which is amazing for just a little over a year of skiing,” Masters said.

Here’s  complete listing of 2014 Paralympics competitions.  

On Situation in Ukraine

Masters said Oksana has not returned to Ukraine since she was adopted in 1997.

“It’s probably not the best thing to do right now,” Masters said.

In an interview with The Moscow Times, Oksana said she wasn’t in Sochi ”to worry about the politics.”

“I’m here just to compete, and I’m here for myself and I’m here to represent Team U.S.,” she said.

Masters said she and Oksana do not have any contact with her birth family.

“We don’t know where they are or who they are,” Master said.  ”I think [Oksana] is more worried about our friends family that is there.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.