Oksana Masters was born with defects linked to the radiation poisoning caused by the 1986 accident, with her legs missing weight-bearing bones.
The 32-year-old was also born with six toes on each foot, five webbed fingers on each hand and no thumbs.
After spending time in three orphanages she was adopted by single mother Gay Masters and moved to the US, where she lived in Buffalo, New York, before growing up in Louisville, Kentucky.
Her birth defects saw her left leg amputated at the age of nine, and the right one at 14.
But, encouraged by her mother, she began adaptive rowing at the age of 13 and so far in her Paralympian career has won two gold medals while competing in rowing, cycling and Nordic biathlon.
“I love new challenges and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I truly believe with the right amount of support, hard work, dedication and belief in one’s self, anyone can make anything happen and make their dreams come to reality,” she said on her website.
“Because I am so competitive and hate losing, I believe sports was always in my blood. I am so thankful I have been given a ‘second chance’ in life through my amazing family and the opportunity to fulfil my passion and hunger for racing and competing.”
At the Tokyo games, coffee-loving Masters has won gold in the road cycling time trial and road race H5.
Masters underwent an unexpected operation on her leg in the spring and had to recover from that before continuing her training.
She says she was a “wreck” after the operation but received a huge amount of support from boyfriend Aaron Pike, also a Paralympian, and her mother.
“I was not able to wear my prosthetic legs for about 10 weeks and he gave me his wheelchair that he relies on every day for me to use,” she said.
“I always knew he was always that type of a person who would give you the shirt off his back if someone needed it and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have such an amazing boyfriend who literally gave me his wheelchair to use while he was using his friend’s chair.”
Now she says she is aiming to win a medal, but also insists she wants to enjoy the journey.
“It’s a happy amount of doubt that keeps me motivated to prove to myself that I can do it. I can overcome it,” she said.
“Getting a podium result would be great, but it’s the steps in between that actually make you an amazing, incredible athlete.”
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