Jessica Long, the swimmer in a 2021 Toyota Super Bowl commercial that lasted 60 seconds, took a 7,000-mile path to becoming the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history.
Long, chronicled in the film “Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story” available on Peacock, was born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, which means she didn’t have fibulas, ankles, heels and most of the other bones in her feet.
She was adopted by Americans from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old and raised in Baltimore. At 18 months old, her legs were amputated below the knees. She has had more than a dozen surgeries.
Long began swimming in her grandparents’ pool after church on Sundays, pretending she was a mermaid. By age 10, she swam competitively. At 12, she made her Paralympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games, earning three gold medals.
Long competed in the next three Paralympics, running her medal total to 23. For a time, she was in the same training group as Michael Phelps under coach Bob Bowman. She is expected to swim in a fifth Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
Only fellow swimmer Trischa Zorn owns more Paralympic medals among Americans — an overall record 55.
In 2013, Long traveled with her younger sister to meet her birth parents, who were teenagers when Long was born Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova.
An NBC Olympics production team accompanied her on a three-day journey to her Russian adoption center and then an 18-hour train ride to what would have been her Siberian hometown. “Long Way Home” premiered on primetime during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
“When I first see my Russian family, I want them to know that I’m not angry with them, that I’m not upset that they gave me up for adoption,” Long said in the film, before a tearful, hug-filled reunion. “I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.”
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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