The Story Behind the Life-Affirming Paralympic Swimmer Superbowl Ad

Jessica Long talks about the role of faith in her amazing, inspirational journey.

By Nancy Flory Published on February 10, 2021

“I was so as ashamed of my legs and I used to hide them, but I now know God made me this way to be a light in this world,” said 28-year-old paralympic swimmer Jessica Long. Toyota’s 1-minute Superbowl ad featured Long’s story.

“It’s such an emotional spot,” Long said. “It’s so raw. The way Toyota was able to capture all of that, it brings all of these emotions out that I kind of forgot about. I didn’t start out the sport thinking that I was going to win gold medals or to be in a Super Bowl commercial. I started this sport because I truly loved the water. It was a place that I felt really free.”

Long was born in Siberia in Russia. She had a birth defect that would require her legs to be amputated, so her birth mother handed her over for adoption. A Christian couple in the United States adopted her in March of 1993. When she was 18 months old, the couple decided to have Long’s legs amputated so she could learn to walk on prosthetic legs from an early age.

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Long began swimming when she was three years old. When she was 10, she joined a swim team. She pushed herself hard to be the best, which wasn’t difficult because the other girls treated her as a friend and competitor. “They didn’t notice or seem to care about the fact that I didn’t have legs,” said Long. “I am positive if they treated me differently I wouldn’t be the world class swimmer I am today.”

The Longs were strong Christians. Even so, Long discovered that she had to make her faith her own. Long said:

I was always angry with God. I couldn’t understand how a God could make me without my legs. When I was 8 years old, I kinda accepted him, but it was more out of fear and wanting to just go to heaven. There wasn’t a relationship and I still never felt good enough. Years later when I was out in Colorado Springs training, I felt God truly work in my heart. I was raised the right way, but I still had to come to Christ on my own.

Eventually I decided I wanted to give Jesus my whole heart. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. It doesn’t mean I don’t have tough days! I now just know who ultimately has my heart and I’m learning to trust God. Growing up I had multiple surgeries to help with bony overgrowth. What made this so difficult was the healing process and not understanding why I had to go through all of that pain. I also had to learn how to walk each time, but looking back quitting was never an option. I got through every single challenging moment of my life because of my determination that God gave me.”

Long wants others to never give up on their dreams. While life is difficult, people can achieve anything with a good attitude. She also wants them to believe in themselves. “Believe you are capable of incredible things and that God has a plan for every individual. I want you to embrace who God made you to be. To love every part of yourself, flaws and all.”

Long now sees God’s work in her life. “Being born without legs was never a punishment. I now look at my legs and think of all the people I’ve been able to touch because God made me this way. Embrace who you are! Shine bright and never ever give up on your dreams.”

Long has won 23 Paralympic medals including 13 golds.

Watch:

 

Nancy Flory is an associate editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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