Last year, Oksana and her coach heard about a potential partner in the Washington area. Rob Jones had been rowing only for a few months, but he was naturally competitive and might help her get to the Paralympics.
Bob Hurley was skeptical. These things usually don't work out. But Oksana thought, What if I don't go? What if that was my gold medal chance and I didn't pursue it? So they flew to Washington. Rob and Oksana practiced for the first time. "They just meshed up perfectly," Hurley says. "It was like they had rowed together for years."
Rob told her up front that this was a one-and-done opportunity, that he was finished after the Paralympics, which begin next week in London. Rowing is not his passion; competing is. After the Paralympics, he will move on. He wants to compete in triathlons and bike cross-country. He wants to get a job and make enough money so he can give away his VA check every month.
In the meantime, after dozens of tweaks and refinements, they have a good shot at medaling. Oksana wants it because "people have always said what I can't do." Winning gold is her dream. Rob wants it largely for the same reason: It is her dream.
In the sporting sense, they are underdogs because they are both double amputees, and they are smaller than almost everybody in the other boats. But at the final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Serbia in May, they won the 1,000-meter race by seven seconds. They realized then that it doesn't matter if other rowers are stronger or more powerful.
Sometimes the boat feels heavy. But there are days when Oksana and Rob are out on the water, practicing for London, and their torsos and arms and muscles and bones and brains all work as one, and....
Seven billion little, tiny human grass strands are c urrently alive, but at that moment it seems as if there are just the two of them: a girl left for dead and a boy who was trained to kill. If you saw them from the shore, you would not know how they got there. Boats do not tell life stories. You would see them from the waist up, so you probably wouldn't even realize they are missing their legs. And so you would not feel sympathy for them, and you would not be inspired. You would just see them gliding.