Jessica Long Has Five Medals and Counting

Former Dundalk-Eastfield swimmer is competing at the International Paralympic Games in London.

How many times in our lives have we met a young person bursting at the seams with potential and promise, and say to ourselves, "Some day, I'm going to be able to say I knew (insert name here) when?"

Well, for me, that person is Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, who has been steadily adding to her medal haul this past week while competing in the International Paralympic Games in London.

With several races still on Jessica's Paralympic card, she's already claimed four gold medals and one silver for Team USA.

Her most recent stand on the Paralympic podium came Tuesday, when she watched the American flag raised in honor of her gold medal won in the 100-meter backstroke.

She set the tone on Aug. 30, the first day of competition, when she won gold in the 100-meter butterfly.

Jessica followed that up with world record-setting gold in the 400-meter freestyle on Day 2 and a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke on Day 3.

Day 4 of the competition saw the swimmer slip to fifth place in the 50-meter freestyle, for her first non-podium result of the meet.

She joined teammates Susan Beth Scott, Victoria Arlen and Anna Eames on Day 5 to claim the silver medal in the 4X100-meter freestyle relay.

Counting relays, Jessica could have three more dates with London's Olympic pool.

I first met Jessica when she was a 10-year-old swimming with the now-defunct Dundalk-Eastfield Swim Club.

The late Bruce Mills, who was then the president of the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, called me while I was working for a community weekly newspaper and told me he had a good story for me.

He went on to tell me about this girl who had just started swimming with the club. Bruce kept feeding me details, but there still wasn't that big hook to make me jump up and go interview the kid.

Until he got to the part about Jessica being a double amputee—both of her legs end a few inches past the knee.

That made me sit straight up in my chair. Legs are a pretty vital part of swimming of any kind, let alone of the competitive variety.

So one Saturday morning in January 2003, I got up before the sun did to go to a swim club practice to meet Jessica and watch her in action.

While she was not able to beat able-bodied team members, she was a quick learner and consistently improved her own race times.

Before long, she came to the attention of disabled swimming officials and her path to the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team received its first few pavers.

In 2004, she was the youngest member of the U.S. swim delegation to the Paralympics in Athens.

As an unknown on the international scene, Jessica took the world by storm, winning three gold medals as a 12-year-old.

Since then, she has won more medals and set more American, world and Paralympic records than even she can keep track of.

She won four gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, and set three world records along the way.

She was unstoppable at the World Swimming Championships in Durban, South Africa, in 2006, where she won nine gold medals and set five world records.

In addition to receiving race medals and setting records, she has snagged many individual awards, including two ESPY Awards from ESPN (2007 and 2012); the James E. Sullivan Award, given to the nation's top amateur athlete (2007); and the Juan Antonio Samaranch IOC Disabled Athlete Award (2008).

Jessica was named the Disabled Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine in 2011 and 2006 and the United States Olympic Committee named her its Paralympian of the Year in 2006.

I haven't seen her in person since a meet in late 2007, but I have followed nearly every race she's been in.

Perhaps the best thing about Jessica is that she is a great kid (though she's now 20 and I need to stop calling her that) from a great family.

Born in Russia, Jessica was adopted by Middle River residents Steve and Beth Long when she was 13 months old.

Doctors here in the U.S. told the Longs that Jessica would have a better shot at a "normal" life if her misshapen lower legs were amputated so she could be fitted with prosthetic legs.

In a story that has been told time and time again, Jessica, as an 18-month-old toddler, provided her own physical therapy after getting her first artificial legs by running around and being active and, by family accounts, hasn't stopped since.

Many people often ask me what my best journalistic coup has been and, without hesitation, I say, "Writing the first words that were ever written about swimmer Jessica Long."

It was true in 2003 and still true today.

For more information and results visit www.usparalympics.org and www.youtube.com/usparalympics.

Josephine Hlatki September 05, 2012 at 12:30 PM
God bless you, Jessica and God bless your family. I love to hear about good things happening to good people.
Michael Carnahan September 05, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Congratulations, Jessica! Keep making us proud!
Buzz Beeler September 05, 2012 at 03:10 PM
I often stop and think about the struggles people like Jessica make on a daily basis just to get through the rigors of life. I often wonder if I had the strength to do the same and here comes along a young lady who not only accomplishes this but goes on to achieve greatness. The humane spirit boggles the mind and I wish I had that key to unlock it. Jessica you should be very proud to achieve such a lofty goal while others complain about the sniffles. If the world was full a Jessica's what a nice place it would be.
Steve September 05, 2012 at 04:27 PM
That's pretty impressive.
number9dream September 05, 2012 at 05:03 PM
It's nice to read some good news and hear an inspirational story for a change.


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