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Jessica Long Talks Being Quarantined With Her New Husband During A Pandemic

By Lisa Costantini | Oct. 11, 2020, 2:23 p.m. (ET)

Jessica Long and her husband Lucas Winters pose for a photo on their wedding day on Oct. 11, 2019 in Maryland.

 

It’s been said that the first year of marriage is the hardest. And that’s without a pandemic.

Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long is used to hard. But she is used to coming through ordeals with flying colors — or in her Paralympic career, 23 medals.

Born in Russia with a leg defect, the now 28-year-old was adopted by an American couple around her first birthday — February 29, no less! Months later she had both her legs amputated below the knees.

This past year, Long has had a crash course in marriage and the ups and downs caused by the pandemic and the postponement of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“I truly think if you can make it through a pandemic, you can make it through anything,” she said about married life.

Love In The Time Of Corona
Long married 27-year-old Lucas Winters on October 11, 2019 on a farm in Maryland, four years after they started dating.

When they met — at a “Flannel Friendsgiving” hosted by some church friends — Long remembered “being really serious, like nothing is going to get in the way of swimming, not even a boy.” For most of their relationship, her days were filled with “practices, promo shoots, sponsorship engagements, and competitions.” Even after they got married, time together was rare.

Then five months after saying “I do” and moving in together, the global pandemic hit, leaving her and her new husband to quarantine in their “cute little condo” in Maryland.

“It was hard,” laughed Long. Living with someone for the first time, “there were some good days, and some bad days. And there were definitely moments where I wanted to wring his neck — and I’m sure there were moments he wanted to wring mine.”


Finding The Right Balance
Winters was used to juggling his wife’s swimming with their schedule. While he was commuting to DC four days a week for his job with a soccer foundation, Long was training at the North Baltimore Aquatic Center with Michael Phelps and his former coach, Bob Bowman. When they did see one another, they’d do a date night “and everything was great,” Long recalled. But just as “he was learning to be a husband, and I was learning to be a wife, the pandemic hit and everything changed."

Something she called “key during the pandemic” was giving each other some time alone during the quarantine. “Lucas would be like, ‘Okay, Jess you go take an hour and do something for yourself and I’m going to go into our [makeshift] office and play guitar.’ And then we would meet up after,” she recalled. “We’d play a card game or go on a date by putting blankets in the back of my Toyota, order take out, go to a park and open up the back and watch the sunset. We enjoyed each other’s company, which I think is important,” she said, “but we also recognized that sometimes alone time is healthy, too.”

Exercise also helped. “When I’m tired and I’m not working out, my thoughts are more negative,” Long realized. Due to the pandemic, the four-time Paralympian went 75 days without being able to get in a pool. “Lucas was running like three times a day, but being an amputee I can’t really just go on a jog,” she said. Instead Long found herself spending a lot of time in the bathtub. “I just needed to be near water. I was losing my mind.”

She eventually found a pool that was open, but it was two hours away. “I told Lucas, I have to go. He was super supportive. He has been great. He’s so patient and kind.”

Dealing With The Mental Side
“If there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s how important mental health is,” she said emphatically.

“I am a mentally tough person, but there were moments during the quarantine when I didn’t feel strong. But I didn’t want to live in the sadness.” She said that’s when she reached out to her husband and family — more specifically her sister (who was the maid of honor at her wedding).

“I think sometimes we glamorize being strong all the time,” she said. When Tokyo 2020 got postponed “I wanted to come off all super positive — because I like to see the good — but no one knows how to handle an Olympics or Paralympics being postponed.

Months later when it came time for the one year out celebration, she remembered having mixed emotions. “I loved seeing all the positivity online. But part of me was like, but how are you all really doing? Because I’m over here struggling a bit.”


Adapting And Trying To Stay Positive
With the wedding having taken up so much of her time last year, 2020 has felt like a lot of playing catch up. While she is grateful to have the extra year to train, the swimmer — who won her first Paralympic gold medal in Athens at the age of 12 — admitted that she sometimes struggles to find the motivation to show up at the pool. “I am trying to give myself grace,” she said, “because we don’t always have to have it together. I think it was Michael who said in the HBO documentary, ‘The Weight of Gold,’ it’s okay to not be okay. It’s nice to finally be able to talk about it.”

For now she is focusing on Tokyo. In doing that it made her realize, “I don’t think I’ve ever slowed down and been proud of what I’ve accomplished,” she said about her 13 gold medals. “I think I have so much worth without all of my medals, but at the same time I want to win them. It’s a balancing act. It’s like, yeah girl, show people what you can do, but also, you are enough without them.”

And since she doesn’t intend to let Tokyo be her last Games, “I still need to swim,” she added. But that means balancing her swim life with her home life, which is how she is able to get away for a quick weekend trip to DC with her husband to celebrate their anniversary. “We just have to leave after practice on Saturday,” she laughed. 

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Jessica Long