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The Marine And The Orphan
MICHAEL ROSENBERG
August 27, 2012
The stories of Rob Jones and Oksana Masters are remarkable, and if they also prove inspirational, that's fine with them. But they have another narrative they prefer, the one that has brought them together to the brink of Paralympic rowing gold
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August 27, 2012

The Marine And The Orphan

The stories of Rob Jones and Oksana Masters are remarkable, and if they also prove inspirational, that's fine with them. But they have another narrative they prefer, the one that has brought them together to the brink of Paralympic rowing gold

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Gay sent her daughter to therapy. Oksana drew a picture of a very dark room with a crack and a man's shadow looming over a bed. The memories returned in a flood, at unpredictable times. Once, as Gay and Oksana drove on the highway, Oksana suddenly screamed, "Get down! Get down!" She had visions of the men who had assaulted her.

"I would think, It's them, coming to get me!" she says. "The mind is really powerful. I mean, I literally saw them."

Like most teenagers, Oksana was painfully self-aware. She hid her prosthetic legs by wearing pants, even during the hot Kentucky summers. But classmates wondered: Why does she walk funny? She was prepared with a story if they discovered her condition. She would tell them that she had been an extra in a crocodile movie, and the crocodile attacked her.

She did not look like an athlete, but she discovered she was—not just in talent but also in spirit. She had started rowing for fun at 13, before her second amputation, even though she had trouble gripping the oars. After that surgery, she rowed competitively, purposefully—especially when she climbed into a single scull.

When Oksana was alone on the water, nobody could tell her what to do. Nobody could abandon her. Nobody could help her. The boat moved as fast as she made it move. Rowing without any lower-body muscles was hard—sometimes excruciating. But she welcomed the challenge. As Oksana attacked the water, the central theme of her early life was inverted. She could be as violent as she wanted, while everything around her stayed serene.

Carol couldn't believe it. The Marines? Rob?

She had always said that if the U.S. held another draft, she would move to Canada rather than let them take her boys. The first time Rob mentioned the Marines, she didn't think he was serious. But here he was, a junior at Virginia Tech, standing on the back deck of the house before dinner with something to say to his sister. He had already signed up.

"Definitely shocking," Alison says.

Even now, Rob can't explain his decision. He had spent days, weeks, years in front of a computer. He was not selfish. That would not be fair to say. He was ... self-contained. He had lived within his own whims and desires, and it started to feel terribly wrong. "I realized that there are things out there that are more important than me," he says. "[In high school] I didn't really have as much empathy. That's a good word. That is the best way to describe it."

He pauses.

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