Gold medalist and world record holder for the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team, Jessica Long, revealed the hardships she has faced as a Paralympic athlete and how she has overcome them in this exclusive 2012 uInterview.

“I think with being a Paralympic athlete, we’re all [going to] face challenges we already have our whole lives,” Long told uInterview exclusively before the London Olympics. “For me, it’s been my legs, with surgeries throughout growing up, but even that, since 2004 I’ve had many surgeries on my legs. Many things that have come in my way blocks my goal and 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 [that it’s] all part of a plan.”

Long, who is getting ready to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics, said that during training, she is always surrounded by top athletes. She described her typical training schedule and said that her day is officially over by 9 p.m.

“While I’m at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, everything is based on training and new schedule. You’re surrounded by elite athletes 24/7,” she explained. “A typical day for me, I’m in the pool every morning from 7 through 9, and then definitely breakfast is very important after and I like to eat breakfast with the team. Then … I like to dry land abs, stretching after the morning workout and right after that I normally go back and nap. Then, after napping, we have weights for an hour and then afterward, we have another two-hour practice. After that practice, it’s normally [finished] off 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 definitely love it. I love what I do, and I love getting stronger every day and just feeling a difference.”

Long said that the 2009 Paralympics “broke her down” because she was convinced she was going to get seven gold medals. Long was able to win four gold medals, but it was all media talked about, which made her feel pressured.

“When I was 12, I had no pressure I was the underdog, so coming out with three gold medals was great. Sixteen, I put tons of pressure on myself and I said I was [going to] win seven gold and I only ended up coming out with four gold and silver and bronze, so the media really focused on that I didn’t do what I said I was and … said what I did do. That broke me down a little bit 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 [Paralympic] Games. I’m going in … but I really just want to enjoy the whole experience and most of this will be the last Paralympic Games of the people I’ve grown up with my whole life, so just really enjoy the team dynamic and take as many pictures as possible.”

Long said that one of her favorite rituals before competing is visualizing the races while she listens to music and breathing to keep herself calm.

“Each race is different, each race I have a plan, certain warm-ups, certain this and that. For me, something that my team and I do a lot of is mental prep,” she said. “We call it a mental prep where we’ll visualize or we do air 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. We each have our own little rituals and for me, I love visualizing my race. I mean, there are times I put in my headphones and I’m just dancing around and I just visualize and do the butterfly.”

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