Seven-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long was the first athlete to win gold for the United States in the 2012 London Paralympics. As of this post, the U.S. has 21 gold, 18 silver, and 25 bronze, for a total of 64 medals. People’s Republic of China is leading in medal count, with a total of 152 medals.
When Long was only twelve, she participated in her first Paralympic Games and won three gold medals at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Afterwards, she won the 2006 U.S Olympic Committee’s Paralympian of the Year award and the 2007 AAU Sullivan Award, given to the top amateur athlete in the country. She was the first Paralympian to ever receive this award, even beating out Olympian greats Apolo Ohno and Michael Phelps.
Long was born missing most of the bones in her lower legs and feet, this condition is known as fibular hemimelia. When she was just over a year old, she was adopted from Russia and taken into an American family. Doctors decided it would be best to amputate Long’s legs so she could wear prosthetic legs and learn how to walk. Reminiscing, her father says she was always a fierce competitor with her siblings on the playground and pool. When she turned ten, she joined her first competitive swim team, and just two years later she was competing in the Paralympics.
At the age of sixteen, she participated in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, where she won four gold, one silver, one bronze, and set three new world records. Despite these accomplishments, Long felt like she had “failed” and “wanted to retire.” She took a short break, but eventually returned to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
In 2011, she won nine gold medals and set four world records at the Pan-Pacific Para Swimming Championships, won six gold medals at the Can-Am Swimming Open Championships, and was named Disabled Swimmer of the Year by Swimming Magazine. So far in 2012, she won her second ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability, as well as adding 5 gold and 2 silver at the London Paralympic Games.
Watch Jessica Long win one of those 2012 gold medals right here!