Nearly seven months after winning her 12th Paralympic gold medal, Jessica Long is heading right back where she left off — in the pool.
Long will be in at the University of Minnesota April 4-6 to compete in the U.S. Paralympics Spring Swimming Nationals (2013 Can-Am), an event that serves as a qualifier for the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships, slated for August in Canada. Long, the United States Olympic Committee's 2012 Paralympic SportsWoman of the Year, is one of eight gold medalists from the London 2012 Paralympic Games who will be competing in the meet.
“It’s my first meet since London,” said Long, who racked up eight medals in nine events during the Paralympic Games last summer. “I’ve cut back and am only training half the practices that I did before London. But it’s enough to stay in shape.”
“And,” she added, “I’m still fast.”
Long has scaled back her repertoire and plans to swim in just three events (as opposed to the seven individual events she did in London) for this meet. In Minneapolis, she plans to swim in the 100-meter free, the 400 and the 200 individual medley (S8 class). All three are her strong suits as she is a three-time Paralympic champion in the 100 and 400 and a two-time gold medalist in the 200 IM.
Before heading to London, Long was wavering about her swimming future. Nowadays, however, she seems to have changed her tune.
“I still love it,” said Long, 21, adding that the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games are in her plans. Should she swim in Rio, it would mark her fourth trip to the Paralympic Games. Her first Games were in Athens in 2004 when she was just 12.
Long has also enjoyed the many perks that come along with being a champion. Part of that is being able to share her story, having been born in a Russian orphanage, undergoing the amputation of both legs when she was a toddler and ultimately becoming one of the most dominant swimmers in the world.
Just last week, Long shared her story with children in Kansas City. There, she attended a fundraiser for two new baseball and multipurpose sports facilities that are specifically designed to meet the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. The facilities, the Independence Ability Field at McCoy Park and The Miracle League Field at Olathe Field, are expected to be completed in the fall.
Long met with children at an event at Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Royals, to announce the project, which is being supported by the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities in partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. Long became involved in the project through the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
She jumped at the opportunity since she knows firsthand how important these new facilities will be to children in Kansas City and elsewhere. Diagnosed with fibular hemimelia, Long has undergone about 10 surgeries. She uses prosthetics to walk, so she knows firsthand how important these fields are to the kids in Kansas City and elsewhere.
Long, who was adopted by a family in Baltimore and was raised in the Charm City, was eager to help open the facilities for two reasons: they offer a great benefit to children with physical and mental disabilities and also because it involved the Ripken family. Growing up in Baltimore, Long said it would have been impossible not to know who the famous baseball family is.
Although she has yet to meet Cal Ripken Jr., she said, “I am so excited to be involved with his family’s foundation having grown up knowing his name.
“Sadly,” she added, “I never saw him play. I didn’t go to baseball games because I was always busy swimming.”
Long, who never had an opportunity to play sports in facilities as modern and with such amenities as specially designed turf for wheelchairs, said the fields “not only encourage kids to be active, but they’re making it easy for these kids to be active.”
In addition to the fields in the Kansas City area, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation also has helped build adaptive fields for children in Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The program began with the construction of parks for at-risk kids and children in low-income neighborhoods abut has expanded to help children with disabilities. Although baseball certainly is the primary love of the Ripken family, the fields are designed for children to play a variety of sports.
“Cal can only be in one place at a time, and we are always looking for high-profile spokespeople who want to help make a difference,” said Steve Salem, president of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. “Jessica is a perfect fit. We look forward to working with her on more of these projects.”
Long has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs but Baltimore remains home. She was avidly cheering for the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl in February, and gets back East as often as she can.
The city, known for the most decorated Olympic champion in Michael Phelps, also has become a swimming mecca for Paralympic swimmers. In addition to Long, several other Paralympic swimmers call Baltimore home, among them Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, Rebecca Meyers, Joe Wise and Ian Silverman. Meyers, Wise and Silverman are all entered in the Can-Am event.
Following the Can-Am meet, Long plans to vacation in Mexico with two of her best friends, who also happen to be Paralympic medalist swimmers: Kelley Becherer and Anna Eames.
And perhaps they will be reunited again at the world championships later this year.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.