The first time Paralympic Nordic skier Oksana Masters settled into a sit-ski, she expected to fly down a hill, like an Alpine skier. "I didn't realize I was supposed to be going up the hill," she says. "I definitely spent more time falling on the ground than sitting up."
But for Masters, a bronze medalist in trunk and arms double sculls at the 2012 Paralympic Games (SI, Aug. 27, 2012), the challenge drew her in. "It took me about two seconds to fall in love," she says.
What started as an opportunity to try something different, in December 2012 at the Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo., became a way to cross-train for rowing—and then, just as quickly, a new way to compete. Now, she has added two winter medals to her summer variety—silver in the 12,000-meter and bronze in the 5,000-meter in cross-country, in Sochi. She also competed in the biathlon for the U.S., drawing on her rowing training for both events.
As a skier, her races are longer, while as a rower, she's, relatively speaking, strictly a sprinter, at 1,000 meters. "They're similar in that you can't win a race in the first 200 meters," she says, "but you can lose one. So you have to pace yourself."
Rowing remains her first love, but she has discovered something she likes about skiing that she'll never have in rowing: Rowers face backward, so they can't tell if they're about to pass someone; skiers can hunt each other down.
Masters was thrilled to win another medal, but she's in skiing for a greater reward. "The best part comes every day," she says. "I stop for water and look around. I'm in the Rockies, I'm in the Alps. It's a great day to be alive."
THEY SAID IT
"Stupid! Totally stupid. These morons think the terrorists are honing in here on the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas."
Ted Leitner play-by-play announcer, in an on-air diatribe after a security guard forced him to move his bag with about a minute remaining in a one-point title game between New Mexico and San Diego State.