Today I am staring a series of articles about some of the US Paralympics Team members preparing for the games in London starting August 29th.
"So what if you don’t have a leg? So what if you don’t have an arm? That will not stop you.”
With her super model looks and captivating confident smile, you can tell that swimmer Jessica Long is a winner. And what a winner! At only fifteen she was awarded the AAU Sullivan Award given to the USA’s top armature athlete. This is more impressive when you consider who she beat out for this award. Some people you probably have never heard of, quarterback Brady Quinn, basketball player Joakim Noah, speed skater Apolo Ohno and fellow swimmer Michael Phelps. She continues to impress as she prepares for the 2012 Paralympics games starting August 29th in London.
Jessica Long was born in Siberian on leap day in 1992 and adopted by an American family a year later. "I support an orphanage in India. As someone who was adopted, I know how important it is to support people in other countries, and I realize how blessed we are in the United States”.
Long was born with fibular hemimelia, and like many with this condition had to have her lower legs amputated at a very early age. Her first training was in her grandparent’s backyard swimming pool, she subsequently joined a swim team in her hometown of Baltimore. "I only knew two strokes at first," she says. "The first day killed me. It was so hard, but I kept going back to the team. Most of the other kids didn't even know I was missing my legs until I got out of the pool."
At age twelve, Jessica Long stunned the world by winning three gold medals in The Athens Paralympics Games of 2004. In 2008 she picked up six more medals, four of them gold in Beijing. She currently holds fourteen world records for a female swimmer with a disability, including five set during the 2006 World Swimming Championships, where she won nine gold medals. If all of that was not enough, this past July Jessica won the ESPY award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
Long’s resolve was recently cited by first lady Michelle Obama in her Olympic/Paralympics message as an example to children everywhere.
“She spent an entire day practicing on her prosthetic legs, falling down over and over again,” Obama said during a speech announcing Olympic commitments to get kids more active. “Her advice to other about how to succeed is very simple ... ‘You have to stick with it.’”
Long is a big supporter of the first lady and her initiative, and encourages all athletes, regardless of their disabilities, to stay active and get involved with sports.
“I love her movement and her program,” Long said. “So what if you don’t have a leg? So what if you don’t have an arm? That will not stop you.”
Independence, Inc is a local nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people with disabilities through advocacy, peer support, training, transportation, community to live life independently. Brenda Brown is the Director of Development and Marketing for Independence, Inc.