With the upcoming 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, a commercial featuring a Paralympic swimmer made by the sponsor TOYOTA has caught people’s attention on the Internet. People are asking—Who is the swimmer in that awe-inspiring commercial?
The 29-year-old swimmer, Jessica Long, has held many world records and competed at four Paralympic Games, winning 23 medals (13 of them gold), making her one of the most decorated athletes in Paralympic games history with over 50 world championship medals.
The brief yet stirring commercial depicts the swimmer’s life journey, which began when her adoptive parents decided to adopt her despite her rare condition. The one-minute short concludes with a powerfully moving end: Long swimming through vignettes of her past in confident strokes, looking back with a knowing smile at the life-changing moment her mother answered the call from the adoption agency.
“Her life, it won’t be easy,” the agency warned the soon-to-be parent of the difficulties lying ahead for the orphan girl, to which Long’s mother responded, “It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing.”
Long was born with Fibular hemimelia, a deformity characterized by the shortening of the fibula at birth or the complete lack of fibula. According to the Siberian Times, her case was likely the latter, as Long shared in her interview, “I didn’t have fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of the other bones in my feet.”
Her lower legs were amputated when she was eighteen months old. Since then, Long has learned to walk with prostheses and embraced an active childhood. “I have been involved in many sports including gymnastics, basketball, cheerleading, ice skating, biking, running, and rock climbing,” Long said, “However, I always loved swimming the most.”
Her Russian biological parents were unwed teenagers when Long was born. Gravely informed by the doctor that the adolescent couple would only fail to take comprehensive care of a disabled daughter, the two felt compelled to give Long up for adoption.
Long’s adoptive parents recalled the moment when they fell in love with baby Long upon seeing her picture for the first time. After Steve Long visited the orphanage in person, they decided to adopt her and another child from the same facility, her brother Joshua, at the same time.
Unlike the condensed version shown in the commercial, it took considerable effort for Steve and Beth Long to complete the adoption process. “It took us a lot of time to sort out all the paperwork for adoption… We turned to many professionals in order to solve this problem. We really wanted to help her as much as possible,” they recalled.
Raised with her parents’ unyielding love, Long strove for not just normalcy but also greater accomplishment. “I understand that even being a child I wanted to achieve a lot, I never gave up. I was learning to walk, I always knew I would walk and I won’t differ from other kids,” Long said, “I don’t like it that much to look at my legs but still I learnt to walk on limbs, and I am so grateful to my parents.”
From a play-pretend mermaid in Grandma’s swimming pool to Paralympics gold medalist swimmer, Long’s determined pursuit for sports achievement was unfailingly backed by her family’s effusive support.
Long’s fame in the London Paralympics in 2012 led Russian reporters to track down her biological parents. Her wish to meet them were at last fulfilled in 2014, followed by an NBC interview that captured the heartwarming reunion in Russia. Long also shared this memorable trip to Russia on her Facebook page.