The Paralympic Games are filled with fierce, tough, and determined athletes driven to win gold for themselves and their countries. They also happen to be some of the most inspiring people on the planet. Case in point, Jessica Long.
Long, a double amputee since she was 18 months old, is an incredible swimmer, who has been at the Paralympics four times, racked up 23 medals (so far), and is the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian history. While her athleticism is downright impressive, her personal story is equally riveting. Long’s incredible swimming talent was honed by her parents who adopted her
from a Siberian orphanage when she was just thirteen months old. “We just knew she was the one for us,” her adoptive mother, Beth Long, told Today. “Like, it didn’t matter what the disability was. We just knew she was meant for us.” They brought her home to Baltimore and set about breaking down every possible barrier between their daughter and her success in life and the swimming pool.
According to Today, Long started swimming in her grandparents’ pool after church on Sundays. By age 10, she joined a swim team and went head-to-head with other kids in the pool. At 12, she made her Paralympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games, earning her first of many gold medals. She went on to compete at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, London, and Rio.
For Long, moving in water was easier than moving on land. “Every day, I walk with two heavy prosthetics. I may be a Paralympic athlete, but that doesn’t take away the fact that walking is hard,” Long said in a statement. “The water has always given me so much freedom. Since I was a little girl, the water has been this place in my life where I just didn’t feel the weight.” She used that love of weightlessness and became one of the greatest Paralympian athletes ever and was named to Sports Illustrated’s list of “The World’s Best Female Athletes”.