Jessica Long poses for a photo at a Team USA photo shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Brad Snyder felt he knew the storyline that everyone was clamoring for as he prepared to compete at the Paralympic Games London 2012.
Snyder was set to race in the finals of the men’s 400-meter freestyle S11 race on Sept. 7, 2012. It was coincidentally the one-year anniversary of when he was blinded after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Navy.
“I felt like, ‘Man, I’m really going to disappoint a lot of people if I don’t make that headline come true,’” Snyder said.
Fellow American swimmer Jessica Long, a favorite in many minds, knew she was about to make headlines, but she couldn’t think about it. Long, who was adopted at 13 months old from a Russian orphanage, learned that a Russian reporter had found her biological mother prior to the London Paralympics.
Long didn’t know much about the story, or if it was even true, but she couldn’t block it out of her mind. Ten years later, Snyder and Long laughed as they reminisced about winning a combined seven golds and 11 total medals in London despite their individual challenges.
Both swimmers were raised in Baltimore and share the same birthday — Feb. 29. For several days in the summer of 2012, they each overcame their fears on their way to dominating in the pool and reaching the top of medal podium.
A Heavy Heart
Long was already a star swimmer by the time she arrived in London at age 20 to compete in her third Paralympics. She had burst onto the scene as a 12-year-old phenom, capturing three golds at the Paralympic Games Athens 2004.
However, Long faced some unexpected challenges in London. She was training in Stuttgart, Germany, prior to the London Paralympics when she started getting text messages and emails saying that a Russian reporter had tracked down her biological mother in Russia.
As if that weren’t enough, Long decided to take on the challenge of swimming in nine events in London. She faced a grueling schedule of nine consecutive days of racing. However, Long said it felt more like 18 days in a row because she’d take naps after racing in her prelims and before returning to the pool for her finals later in the day.
She’d wake up from a nap and realize she wasn’t done competing for the day.
“At that point, I still hadn’t met my birth family. I still had a lot of questions. I still had a lot of anger,” Long said. “So for me, in a way because I was so angry, it was like I fell into that routine of competing nonstop, day in and day out.”