Jessica Long exploded on to the sports scene in 2004 when, at the age of 12, she won three gold medals at the Athens Paralympics. She continued to win awards, including the2006 U.S Olympic Committee’s Paralympian of the Year, and, at the age of 15, the 2007 AAU Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete. She was the first Paralympian to receive this honor, beating out such high-profile athletes as speed skater Apolo Ohno and fellow swimmer Michael Phelps, and is still the only athlete with a disability to win the award in its 82-year history.
Jessica was born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, missing most of the bones in her lower legs and feet. Adopted from a Russian orphanage at thirteen months, Jessica came to America where her family and doctors decided that amputating the remainder of her lower legs would enable her to be fitted for prosthetic legs and walk. Her father remembers her disability never slowed her down, as she competed with her siblings on the playground and in the pool. Jessica says she always loved swimming, and she joined her first competitive swim team at the age of 10 – just two years before her breakout performance in Athens.
In 2008, Long came to the Beijing Games with high expectations – and was disappointed when she “only” won four gold medals, a silver, and a bronze, and set three new world records. At 16 years old, she tells MEDAL QUEST, she felt she’d “failed” and “wanted to retire.” Instead, she took a short break and then returned to live and compete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Since Beijing, Jessica has continued to win. In 2011 she brought home nine gold medals (and four world records) from the Pan-Pacific Para Swimming Championships, six gold medals at the Can-Am Swimming Open Championships. Swimming Magazine named her Disabled Swimmer of the Year in 2011, and in 2012 she won her second ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
Jessica Long has a personal web page at www.jessicalong.org, and is on Facebook and Twitter at @jessicalong. She is a MEDAL QUEST featured athlete in August.Back To Athletes