Jessica Long made her Paralympic debut at the age of 12 when she won three gold medals at the Paralympic Games Athens 2004 and has been breaking records ever since. Now a four-time Paralympian, Long is the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals (13 golds, six silvers, four bronzes). The Baltimore native, who was born in Siberia, has not slowed down, winning eight golds in eight races at the 2017 world championships. With the 2020 Games in her sights, Long wrote about a recent visit to Tokyo for TeamUSA.org.
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My recent experience in Tokyo, Japan has easily exceeded all expectations. This culture is so beautiful and the people are so welcoming. They smile and say hello so genuinely. They are just as excited as you are to be in their country. They are the epitome of kindness.
I was in Tokyo, Japan, to film for a Japanese TV show in June. So far, they have filmed me swimming, walking around, testing my stroke count, and I did a sit-down interview with a sports physiologist. It’s been an incredible experience!
In all my years of competing I have never once been to a venue before a Games. Although they are still under construction, they are immaculate. I went to the swimming venue to take pictures and explore. It was the most surreal feeling. I have always visualized my races and being in the arena, where I hope to be in two years, was incredible. I found myself dreaming of races to come and my family cheering my name while wearing Team Long shirts.
Since the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, training has taken a back seat. I have focused more on mental awareness and maintaining a balance with life and my sport. This has made me eager to get back into training and feel like an elite athlete. While walking the swimming venue, I felt a fire in my soul. I felt excitement and a thrill to get back into the sport I love so much.
The Paralympics have given me more than I could ever write in a few paragraphs. I know my Paralympic journey is nearing an end, but I am still as excited as 12-year-old me was in Athens. So being in Tokyo and having perspective as a seasoned athlete, I am so appreciative of the people who got me here. I would not be the Paralympic swimmer I am today without them. I hope to be back in Tokyo soon with Team USA and a big smile on my face.