U.S Olympic Committee Partnership with Moran Helps One Elite Paralympic Medalist Make History

Feb 15, 2018 10:10 AM

Strapped into a carbon fiber sit-ski custom molded to fit her body, Oksana Masters skis hard in the blistering cold to the rifle range.

Her heart feels as if it’s thudding out of her chest by the time she’s ready to shoot. Falling to her side, she lies on her belly—sit-ski up in the air— sights her rifle, and aims at one of five targets. But, her contact lenses have fogged up. And then, one slips. Fixing it is frustrating and takes time: her hands are taped into her gloves so they don’t slip out.

Born with radiation-induced limb defects believed caused by the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, Masters is a double-leg amputee who has so far endured more than 20 surgeries in her 28 years—several of those to form thumbs and fingers from webbed hands.

Yet, even after overcoming monumental physical challenges to become one of the United States’ most elite Paralympic athletes, Masters found her efforts on the Biathlon trials consistently stymied by her nearsightedness.

“Shooting is about control,” said her U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Coach, John Farra. “For each missed shot, you have to ski an extra penalty loop of 100 meters while your competitors are skiing to the finish.”

Hope in Sight
In 2016, the United States Olympic Committee selected University of Utah Health, which includes the Moran Eye Center, to join their National Medical Network. Masters, who trains in Utah, scheduled a vision screening at Moran to learn if sight-correcting surgery would eliminate the need for contacts altogether.

She met with Moran cornea specialist, Amy Lin, MD, who determined Masters was a good candidate for LASIK, a laser technique that precisely reshapes the cornea, treating nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Masters had surgery just days before heading to Sweden for a U.S. Paralympic Team training camp.

Making History
“Saving a few seconds shooting has been a huge advantage. Overall, LASIK has made a big impact on my quality of life,” said Masters. Four months later—minus the troublesome contacts—Masters took four world championship titles and five medals for the U.S. at the 2017 World Para-Nordic Skiing Championships.

With the wins, she made history as the most successful U.S. woman at a world championship since International Paralympic Committee records were maintained in the sport.

At the World Cup in Germany, February 2018, “She went on to win five of six races, including two victories in Biathlon—with her newly improved eyes,” said Farra.

Masters, “who is thrilled with her new eyesight,” said Farra, will compete in Biathlon and Cross Country Skiing in PyeongChang, South Korea, March 10, 2018, and hopes to win big again.

Read a recent USA Today story about Masters here. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @oksanamasters and on Facebook at Oksana Masters USA.

Photos Above: Oksana Masters in her sit-ski, sighting her rifle, and with Amy Lin, MD.

LASIK vision Paralympics