Last week I met an amazing American. There is a good chance that Jessica Long may never have been an American nor competed as a Paralympic athlete, because she was born in Siberia, without legs.
Her parents adopted Jessica and her brother from a Russian orphanage when she was 13 months old, embracing whatever challenges lie ahead. Jessica quickly caught on to the American spirit of unlimited possibilities.
“Even though I was born without legs doesn’t mean I can’t do great things.” Jessica said.
At 18 months, her legs were fully amputated below the knees so she could be fitted for prosthetics and learn how to walk. That unleashed her. She then became active in basketball, cheerleading, biking and running. But it was the water that was her wonderland. She would spend hours in her grandparent’s pool, where she would pretend to be a mermaid.
She joined her first competitive team at age 10, then at age 12 she was the youngest athlete on the US Paralympic Swim team. She now holds 20 world records,12 gold Paralympic medals and dozens of other awards.
Maybe it is because of better prosthetics, but more than ever before there is a growing spirit that anything is possible, if you work hard and have the right attitude.
The Weather Channel is devoting an entire series to these powerful athletes with “I Am Unstoppable.” One of my favorite stories is about Sarah Reinertsen. Like Jessica, she had a leg amputation as a child. And like Jessica, Sarah learned to work hard, and went on to be the first woman on a prosthetic leg to finish the Hawaiian Ironman.
Then there’s the gut-wrenching story of Melissa Stockwell, she was serving her country when she lost her leg. She too learned how to walk, run with a prosthetic leg and plans to get her Paralympic medal in China.
“It’s not always about the medal,” Melissa said. “It’s the journey to get someplace and the obstacles you overcome.”
Sometimes it is the little things that bring these amazing athletes joy.
Even though, Jessica is dedicated to training for the games in Beijing, she still relishes the comfort and appearance of the newer prosthetics. “I can now paint my toenails and wear high heels.”
But it is the determination and dedication of these young women that sends a strong message to anyone who will listen. Many things can be possible, despite major challenges.