Tiah Beautement reviews 'The Hard Parts' by Paralympic athlete Oksana Masters

Oksana Masters' gripping memoir is not a tale of overcoming adversity, but learning to live within the challenge

28 August 2023 - 14:36
By Tiah Beautement
'The Hard Parts' by Oksana Masters.
Image: Supplied 'The Hard Parts' by Oksana Masters.

The Hard Parts 

Oksana Masters with Cassidy Randall, Scribner

5 stars 

Oksana Masters is the US's most decorated Paralympic athlete. The double amputee, with a host of birth defects, has successfully competed in rowing, skiing, cycling and the Nordic biathlon. But before reaching the top, she had to learn to train differently.

“You can't just muscle through this,” her first coach informed her. “It's not a formula in life that working harder means working better.” Instead, he showed her that perfecting technique and working smarter would produce the results she desired.

Learning not to fight but to train strategically has not been an easy lesson. Oksana, a Ukrainian orphan exposed to Chernobyl radiation, first learnt to survive by being a fighter. Her formative years were nothing but pain, including being starved, abused and witnessing her only friend's murder.

Life took a dramatic turn when Prof Gay Masters, a single American, adopted Oksana. During the two-year battle to obtain her, the humble professor was encouraged by friends and family to abandon the quest and adopt a baby with no known disabilities. But Gay's dedication to her daughter never wavered.

Oksana's gripping story is coated in pain, discrimination and determination. The memoir is not a tale of overcoming adversity, but learning to live within the challenges and succeed within her reality. Rather than fight who she is, she works with the body she has to achieve her dreams. But it was far from easy to become the woman she is today.

Nor did she ever envision her story was worth telling. She didn't see her tale as one of value until she met Ukrainian men who were disabled while defending the Donbas region. As they listened in awe to her story, the translator leant in and said: “They have hope now.” It was in that moment that Oksana began to consider her story might have worth in the greater sphere.

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