Jessica Long Video Interview, U.S. Paralympic Swimmer
When U.S. Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, 20, was 18 months old, her legs were amputated as a result of fibular hemimelia, a congenital lack of a crucial leg bone. Throughout her childhood and swimming career, Long has had to endure many surgeries on her legs. Yet despite her trials and tribulations, she has not let that stop her from doing what she wants to do. “There are just so many different things that can come, and you never know. Anything can happen,” she told Uinterview exclusively. “So it’s really just looking past it and just understanding it’s all part of a plan.”
Born in Siberia and adopted at 13 months and raised in Baltimore, Md., Long’s resume is both extensive and impressive. She currently holds 20 world records, and in 2007 was the winner of the distinguished AAU Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete. “I didn’t even prepare a speech or anything. It wasn’t like I went thinking, ‘Oh there’s a chance I could win,’” she told the Washington Post. “I never expected them to pick me.”
The 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England will be Long’s third. Already a winner of seven gold medals, Long says she will be looking forward to enjoying the experience. “You know, most of this will be the last Paralympic Games of the people I’ve grown up with my whole life,” she told Uinterview. “So I just want to enjoy the team dynamic and take as many pictures as possible.”
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I think with being a Paralympic athlete, we’re all going to face challenges — we already have our whole lives. For me, it’s been my legs with surgeries throughout growing up. Even that, since 2004, I have had, still, many surgeries on my legs, many things that have come in my way, blocked my goal. You just have to overcome them and still have faith and continue to push on. I’ve had a lot of surgeries. A week before my Paralympic trials in 2008, I had appendicitis. So there are just so many different things that can come, and you never know. Anything can happen. So it’s really just looking past it and just understanding it’s all part of a plan.
I’m out at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs and everything is based on your training and schedule. You’re surrounded by the athletes 24/7. So a typical day for me, I’m in the pool every morning from 7 to 9, and then definitely breakfast is very important after. I like to eat breakfast with the team. I try stretching after the morning workout. Right after that I go back and nap. After napping, we lift weights for an hour, and then after weights we have another two hour practice, and after that practice we usually finish off the night with Yoga or Pilates and then I’m in bed at like 9 o’clock. You really got to love it. If you don’t love it, it can feel like the day goes on forever. But I love it, I love what I do, I love getting stronger every day and feeling the difference.
When I was 12, I had no pressure. I was an underdog, so coming out with three gold medals was great; 16, I put tons of pressure on myself. I said I was going to win seven gold, and I ended up coming out with four gold and a silver and bronze. So the media focused on what I didn’t do instead of what I did do. So that broke me down as a 16-year-old. So, going into London, with all that being said, I’m only 20 and no one can take away what I’ve already done. I’ve already got my gold medals, I’m happy. This will be my third Games. I’m going and having a lot of fun. No one can take away what I’ve done. But I really just want to enjoy the whole experience. You know, most of this will be the last Paralympic Games of the people I’ve grown up with my whole life. So I just want to enjoy the team dynamic and take as many pictures as possible.
Each race is different. Each race you have a plan, certain warmups, certain this, certain that. For me, it’s something that my team will do a lot, which is mental prep. We call it mental prep. We will visualize or we do deep breathing, we have breathing techniques. We have stretching that we specifically do for different races. For me, breathing is very important. We call it our nostril breathing, which just calms you down before you race. So we each have our own little rituals, and for me I love visualizing my race. There are times I put in my headphones and I’m just dancing around, and I’m just visualizing doing the butterfly.