Jessica Long, from Baltimore, Maryland, USA is a champion by all definitions of the word. She is one of the world’s most decorated swimmers. Jessica was the youngest athlete, at 12 years old, to win a Paralympics medal. And she is now on a mission to inspire the next generation of Paralympic athletes. But her path to becoming a champion has been anything but easy.
Jessica Long’s Childhood
Jessica was born in Irkutsk, Russia with a severe and rare birth defect – fibular hemimelia. This means that part of her leg bones was missing or deformed. Fearing she could not care for Jessica, her young mother placed her in a Russian orphanage.
Fortunately, she was adopted by an American family when she was 13 months old. She required 25 different surgeries to help her leg condition. But unfortunately, both of her legs had to be amputated (or removed) when she was just 18 months old.
Jessica learned to walk with artificial legs, also called prostheses. As a child, she took to sports including gymnastics, cheerleading, ice skating, biking, trampoline, and rock climbing.
She began swimming at her grandparents’ house before she started competitive swimming. She really excelled at swimming. Shortly after she started competing, Jessica was selected as Maryland’s Female Swimmer of the Year with a Disability. Even though Long was frustrated with her physical limitations, she was encouraged to enter her first Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. She won three gold medals in swimming at age 12! She was the youngest athlete on the U.S. Paralympic Team to ever do so. But she did not rest on her success.
Jessica has gone on to win 23 medals for Team USA at the Paralympics! She is one of the most decorated international athletes of all time. While she began her career out of anger and frustration, she has is now a positive force on a mission to inspire the next generation of Paralympians!
Her attitude and growth have been keys to her success. Jessica always believed she could do anything. She always gives 110%. She is always learning. And she never allowed herself to quit. As she says, “the only disability in life is a negative attitude”.
Here are several inspiring videos that tell Jessica Long’s amazing story…
- Watch other great IMK stories about children and adults that exhibit perseverance or who have special needs
- Check out other incredibly inspiring stories on IMK about Paralympians
- Learn fun facts about the Paralympics and check out some of the amazing athletes who make up the U.S. Paralympics Team
Topics for Discussion:
- How would you describe Jessica’s attitude and the impact it had on her life?
- What character traits does Jessica exhibit?
- Do you know someone who has overcome a big challenge or obstacle in their life?
- Who most inspires you? Why?
- What is one thing you want to try to do now that you have seen what Jessica can do?
- Is your attitude helping you become a better person or is it holding you back? Watch this Ted Talk about how to change your attitude for good and go follow his advice.
- Think about a big goal that you have. It could be for school, for family, or any other important area of your life. Write it down. Keep track of your progress, stick with it and reward yourself when you have completed it. Keep doing this and you will be surprised at how much you can achieve.
- Consider holding a fundraiser to support the International Child Amputee Network