Jessica Long grew up in Baltimore but that’s a long way from where she was born. The Paralympics swimmer was born in Russia and adopted by American parents and the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia gave her an opportunity to meet her parents.
Long was featured on NBC’s Olympic coverage in primetime Saturday. The 20-minute feature, “Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story,” chronicled her rise to becoming a world class swimmer. The double amputee has won 2 Paralympic gold medals.
An NBC film crew followed Long as she retraced her early life with a trip back to Russia and meeting her biological parents for the first time.
From a 2012 bio about Long:
Long, who had both lower legs amputated before age 2, moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where she could practice with top-level swimmers and coaches sans distraction. Now on the cusp of her third Paralympics, which began Wednesday in London, she says the decision ended her malaise.
“The first week of training there,” she says, “I fell in love with swimming all over again.”
The results speak for themselves. Long, 20, set four world records in 2011 and was named female disabled swimmer of the year by Swimming World magazine At the same time, she became one of the country’s leading faces for the Paralympic movement, securing an endorsement deal with Coca-Cola and winning an award at ESPN’s ESPY ceremony.
In London, she’ll swim as many as nine events, beginning with Thursday’s 400-meter freestyle. Long learned her lesson in 2008 and hasn’t publicly shared her goals for the meet. “I’ll just say I plan to bring home a lot of hardware,” she says.
Long’s mother, Beth, says there’s little doubt Jessica wants gold in each and every race.
It has always been that way, ever since the Longs flew to Russia to pick up their adopted daughter when she was 13 months old. Long was born without ankles, heels and most of her foot bones. To give her a shot at walking with prosthetics, doctors told the Longs they would have to amputate her legs below the knees.
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“We were worried what capabilities she would be left with,” says her father, Steve, a supervisor at Baltimore Gas & Electric.
As soon as the toddler was fitted with prosthetics, however, she stood and tried to walk. As she grew older, God forbid one of her five siblings try to beat her out the front door for a family outing.
“She just likes to win,” Beth says. “A lot.”
“She always wanted to be up to par with the able-bodied kids,” adds Steve.