Published: June 21, 2013
Jessica Long may finally get her most-long-awaited prize this summer.
The Paralympic swimmer from Baltimore, who holds 20 world records, may meet her birth family from Irkutsk, Siberia, for the first time since they gave her up for adoption as a baby.
"All my life I wanted to meet my (birth) mother but they (her parents) are still not real to me yet," she said. "I need to meet them in person. Hopefully I can do that this summer or next."
Before then, Long will compete in the Jimi Flowers Classic meet Saturday and Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The event, named for a swim coach who died in a climbing accident in 2009, is a fundraiser for the Sam and Lauren Flowers college fund.
Long's chance at meeting her birth family came out of nowhere.
A Russian TV reporter took it upon herself to reunite Jessica and her birth parents, Oleg and Natalya Valtyshev. Unfortunately, the reporter tried to arrange a live TV show meeting in Moscow during the 2012 London Games while Long was trying to defend multiple titles.
Despite that distraction, Jessica, now 21, finished with five gold medals, two silvers and a bronze, her best Paralympic showing yet.
"That was weird," she said. "It was a very stressful time since I was competing and I wasn't sure what to believe. They were harassing my friends on Facebook trying to get me to come onto their TV show."
It took a couple of weeks for a distracted Long to realize the possibilities. By then Anastasia, her birth sister, had contacted her via Facebook. Seeing TV interviews of her tearful parents pleading for forgiveness and pictures on the social media site convinced a skeptical Jessica.
"I look a lot like my mother," she said. "It didn't seem to be legitimate until I got to see them on TV."
Her adopted parents, Steve and Beth Long, are very supportive of the meeting, she said. How she ended up in a family of eight (four daughters) says a lot about them, said Jessica, who was born with fibular hemimelia, missing most of the bones in her lower legs and feet.
"It takes really special people to adopt someone who has all these difficulties," she said. "My (adopted) parents had two kids and were told they couldn't have anymore. So they adopted me and my brother. Then they had two more after us."
Her doctors in the United States decided amputating the remainder of her lower legs would allow for prosthetics that would enable her to walk. By age 10, she joined her first competitive swim team and two years later she was winning three gold medals at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.
The prospect of raising a child who would require help beyond their means prompted Oleg and Natalya to send her to an orphanage. Jessica holds no ill feelings toward them.
"I never felt abandoned because I know they did what was best for me," she said. "I could not have done what I have if they had kept me. I think what they did was ultimately very selfless."
She may get the chance to tell them that in person, soon.