Jessica Long is a United States Paralympic swimmer, originally from Siberia in Russia, who competes in Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle events. She has competed in 4 Paralympic games already, at just 26 years of age, in Rio, London, Beijing and Athens in 2004 when she made her debut aged just 12. She has won an incredible 23 Paralympic Medals including 13 Golds 6 Silver and 4 Bronze and is currently the second most decorated Paralympic swimmer in US. history. Even more incredible is the fact that she has won over 46 World Championship medals, including 35 Golds, 10 Silvers and a Bronze. She has held an incredible 14 world records. One of her biggest achievements, has been to have won the prestigious ESPY awards ( An award won by the likes of Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, Christiano Ronaldo and Serena Williams) Jessica has not just won it once but 3 times in her career, for best female athlete with a disability.
Jessica told us that her story began all the way back in Russia. She was born without many of the bones in her lower legs and was given up for adoption by a young Russian girl who couldn’t care for her properly because of her birth defect and so she was placed in an Orphanage. An American couple with the biggest hearts one could imagine, called Steve and Beth Long, who it was said couldn’t have more than the two children they already had, but whom wanted a larger family, decided they would adopt from Russia and in March of 1993 after Steve had travelled over there, they chose to adopt Jessica and another little boy. Miraculously 4 years after they adopted them both, they had two more little girls and the family of four became a beautiful family of six. At the age of 18 months, the decision was made to amputate her legs below the knees, so that she would have the opportunity to learn how to walk using prosthetic legs and from that moment, if not before, with her parents encouraging her every step of the way, Jessica would begin pushing herself beyond anyone’s expectations in every area of life knowing that almost nothing was impossible.
As for swimming, Jessica said she learned how to swim in her grandparents backyard pool at age 3 and immediately took to the water, preferring then as she does now, to not wear her prosthetics when swimming, where she said she can completely enjoy the feeling of freedom without the weight of them, making the water, as she says without doubt, her favourite place in the world to be. Jessica joined a Swim team at the age of 10, knowing only freestyle and backstroke, but said she kept going back because of the way the girls treated her as a friend and a competitor. Jessica said “They didn’t notice or seem to care about the fact that I didn’t have legs. I am positive if they treated me differently I wouldn’t be the world class swimmer I am today.”
Jessica knew to reach her potential she would have to give that little bit more than many swimmers and so the key for her was, practice, practice and more practice. She said it was critical that she worked hard on the technique of swimming and since she didn’t have her lower legs, she worked a lot on upper body strength to get through the water as efficiently as possible. Jessica did all that was asked of her and more and the rest as they say and her progression through the ranks to become an international star, is history.
When asked about her faith in God through such a challenging journey, Jessica told us she was raised in a very strong Christian household, but that her real faith came later. Jessica said “I was always angry with God. I couldn’t understand how a God could make me without my legs. When I was 8 years old, I kinda accepted him, but it was more out of fear and wanting to just go to heaven. There wasn’t a relationship and I still never felt good enough. Years later when I was out in Colorado springs training, I felt God truly work in my heart. I was raised the right way, but I still had to come to Christ on my own. Eventually I decided I wanted to give Jesus my whole heart. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. It doesn’t mean I don’t have tough days! I now just know who ultimately has my heart and I’m learning to trust God. Growing up I had multiple surgeries to help with boney overgrowth. What made this so difficult was the healing process and not understanding why I had to go through all of that pain. I also had to learn how to walk each time, but looking back quitting was never an option. I got through every single challenging moment of my life because of my determination that God gave me.”
Jessica’s story is truly remarkable and so we asked her what she’d want you guys to learn from it and so here’s what she said “I want you learn to honestly never give up… at any task. Life is hard and not every single day is easy, but setting goals and knowing you can achieve anything is important with a good attitude. Also to believe in yourself! Believe you are capable of incredible things and that God has a plan for every individual. I want you to embrace who God made you to be. To love every part of yourself, flaws and all. For so long, I was so as ashamed of my legs and I used to hide them, but I now know God made me this way to be a light in this world. Being born without legs was never a punishment. I now look at my legs and think of all the people I’ve been able to touch because God made me this way. Embrace who you are! Shine bright and never ever give up on your dreams.
Jessica’s next big competition is this August where she’ll be swimming for the first time in Australia for the Para Pan-Pacific Championships for which in her own words she said she’s “crazy excited!”. She then said The main goal is obviously the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which will be her record breaking 5th. We so wish Jessica all the best and hope we get to be a part of that journey and hear a lot more from her in the future but for now a massive thank you Jessica and God bless.