As a leap year baby, Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long‘s birthday – February 29 – technically only comes around once every four years. Over the years, she has become accustomed to her “official” quadrennial birthday celebration falling in the same year as the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“I always felt like I was born to compete at the Games due to the timing,” Jessica Long, a 23-time Paralympic medalist, reflected on Wednesday.
Of course, the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics means this year will be the first time her birthday streak is broken.
These days, the soon-to-be 29-year-old – or seven-and-a-quarter-year-old, as Long jokes – is preparing for what she hopes will be her fifth Paralympic appearance.
At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Long became the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history. She ultimately left Rio with 23 career medals (including 13 gold). In the four-plus years since Rio, Long says she’s become a “much smarter swimmer.”
In October, she decided to relocate to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in order to spend the lead-up to Tokyo living and training at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. She has access to a long course pool and swims nine times a week (with one rest day). “Right now, it’s just maintaining healthy shoulders and a good mindset,” she explains.
While her official Paralympic program won’t be determined until this summer’s U.S. Paralympic Trials, Long says she is aiming to compete in at least five individual events, and two relays.
Long also doesn’t want to Tokyo to be her last Paralympic appearance, despite what you might have heard.
“I apparently said that Tokyo was going to be my last Paralympics,” she laughs. Instead, she has a new target: I would love to end my career at LA 2028.”
She continued: “I chose swimming because it was the best form of exercise as an amputee. I feel really confident in my sport and really confident in my body because of swimming. So I don’t ever see myself not swimming.”