What Oksana Masters loves the most about coffee – and it’s a long list – is the ritual.
The grinding of beans. Feeling the heat while holding the mug. Sipping in the same spot on a regular basis. The familiar aromas. A feeling of connection.
“Kind of like sports,” said Masters, a coffee-phile who will often start her day before training for one of four Paralympic sports with a cup in hand.
The training “ritual” itself has been frenetic and condensed over the past several months. Masters, 32, needed all the caffeine she could handle as she continued her quest to medal in back-to-back Paralympic Games. In August, she won two gold medals in road cycling (time trial and road race) at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Now the 10-time Paralympic medalist (four gold, three silver, three bronze) leads Team USA as one of its most recognizable stars – she’s in Visa commercials and also counts Nike and Oakley as sponsors – at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, which begin Friday in Beijing.
The months in between have been a whirlwind for Masters. Between sponsor shoots, equipment fits, publicity engagements (like enjoying Rams-Bears on “Sunday Night Football” at SoFi Stadium) and training, the month of September included nine flights that ended with her at a training camp in Germany.
“It’s just as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Masters told USA TODAY Sports. “All the anxiety and anticipating it, but it’s exciting.”
Masters, adopted from Ukraine at the age of 8 (she wrote on Instagram last week her “heart is breaking” for the country and its people), is a double-amputee who competes in the para-Nordic skiing and biathlon at the Winter Paralympics .
Each Paralympics requires two completely different motions, Masters said. While cycling (pushing motions) was the focus for Tokyo, she would roller ski or log time on the ski erg to keep the ski muscles (pulling motions) awake. It was a delicate balance, she said, because sharpening them too much prior to the cycling competition would negatively impact her performance.
“Keeping the cobwebs off those muscles,” said Masters, who won a bronze medal in row at the 2012 London Games.
By now, Masters’ cross country and biathlon muscles are in peak condition. After testing positive for COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve, she recovered in time to win her 10th biathlon world title in Norway in January. She also won gold in the cross-country long distance race.
Making equipment for para-athletes more accessible
The equipment aspect of para-athletics will always be on top of Masters’ mind. So much that she already has a plan – one that obviously involves coffee – to create more opportunities for disabled youth to try sports.
“One of the things I wish people knew about Paralympic sport is just the equipment side of it and how hard it is just to even try a sport,” said Masters.
Masters’ ski costs $5,000. It is made to his own height and weight and foot size. Her sponsors and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee help allay equipment and training costs, but Masters remembers living out of her car earlier in her career to save money for custom skis.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is – I’ve broken my sis ski multiple times,” Masters said. “And it’s not just, go back and get a new one. You have to pay all over again. A lot of times, it’s custom-made.”
Masters has partnered with another sponsor, The Hartford, and its “Ability Equipped” program that gifts disabled children equipment to try sports. Last year, she surprised 22-year-old Keegan Moreau with her own custom-made skis.
“I loved seeing the passion (she had) about her sport, alpine skiing,” Masters said. “I wish I had as much guts as she does to go down the hill. I like to control my own destiny going up the hill.”
To Masters’ surprise, Moreau knew who she was.
“It’s so strange to think of yourself as an inspiration for someone,” she said. “I’m just living a life where I wish I had that person to look up to, where I wish I could see someone who looks like me or identify with. Like, ‘Oh, she has no legs. I can be an athlete .I can do all of these things.’ ”
In the “Masters” plan, she wants to operate a mobile coffee shop that drives across the country. The business would donate a portion of the profits to a local Paralympic program or athlete, Masters said.
Masters fell in love with coffee – particularly going home smelling like a roastery – while working at Starbucks in her native Louisville, Kentucky as a teenager.
“When someone says they don’t like coffee, I firmly believe they haven’t had the right cup of coffee, or made the right way,” Masters said.
As for the hot vs. iced debate, Masters is neutral.
She likes both – just like a dual-Paralympics athlete would.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.