USA’s 27-time para swimming medalist: Phelps wrote me good luck and that he was rooting for me

Jessica Long, competing in her fifth Paralympics, won her fourth medal in Tokyo with a silver in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB7 on Wednesday.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Breaststroke - SB7 Medal Ceremony – Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - September 1, 2021. Silver medalist Jessica Long of the United States celebrates on the podium REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Breaststroke - SB7 Medal Ceremony – Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - September 1, 2021. Silver medalist Jessica Long of the United States celebrates on the podium REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Team USA’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympics swimmer Jessica Long took silver in the final of the women’s 100m breaststroke SB7 at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre with a late surge on Wednesday and explained afterwards that she was inspired by not only training with the most decorated Olympian of all time but also received a good luck message from 28-time swimming medalist Michael Phelps.

Russia-born Long, 29, who took gold in Saturday’s Women’s 200m Individual Medley SM8 event to top the medal podium at her fifth consecutive Paralympics, recently trained with Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman in Washington.

Phelps, 36, who retired in 2016 having won more medals by himself than 161 countries and is universally regarded as the greatest swimmer of all time, was in Tokyo for the Olympics working as commentator.

“There was a time in 2008 where no one really wanted to talk to the Paralympic athletes,” said Long who has also clinched bronze in the women’s 100m Backstroke S8 and silver in the women’s 400m Freestyle S8 in Tokyo and will look to end her Games on a high in Friday’s Women’s 100m Butterfly S8 final.

Baltimore-based Long joined her first swimming team at the age of 10 having first practiced the sport in her grandparents’ pool.

Born without fibula bones, ankles or heels, Long’s legs were then amputated below the knee at the age of 18 months, but now she is one of her country’s most decorated Paralympic swimmers after earning her 27th Paralympic medal on Wednesday and is known and supported by legends such as USA icon Phelps.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Breaststroke - SB7 Heat 1 – Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - September 1, 2021. Jessica Long of the United States in action REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Breaststroke - SB7 Heat 1 – Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - September 1, 2021. Jessica Long of the United States in action REUTERS/Marko Djurica

“I remember doing some media and (was) just kind of being pushed to the side. And when I had the opportunity to train with Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman in DC, that’s when I realized that I am just as good as the Olympic athletes and I don’t ever have to question it.”

Long spoke about how far the Paralympic movement has come and the message she received from the ‘Baltimore Bullet’.

“Just even having the respect of the Olympic athletes before I came out here, Michael wrote me good luck and that he was rooting for me and cheering for me and that was a really big moment, especially being a Paralympic athlete, just to have the respect of the greatest Olympian.”

The former speed climbing competitor reflected on her performance in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB7 event and revealed how she stays motivated while competing in her fifth Paralympics.

“That is the hard part, being a part of this for so long, my fifth Games, and I’ve won gold in the breaststroke. I have done that, I’ve swum this race so many times, and all of these races so many times, and it’s honestly just trying to see if I can do it again and again.

“When I really struggle to get out of bed, or when I really feel like giving up, I try to go back to the little 12-year-old girl at her first Paralympic Games who never gave up. And that really gives me motivation just because even though I’m 29, I still want to make her proud.

“That really helps me reset and refocus and when those bad days come, I let them come. It’s very normal and natural to have those days.”

Long even admitted that she has so many Paralympic medals that she’s actually lost one from her very first Paralympics.

“I actually don’t know where one gold is. We don’t know where it is. It’s an Athens (2004) one, it might be in a museum. We don’t know where it is.”

The American has four medals from her four events to date in Tokyo but sees herself as someone who now has an added responsibility to help to inspire and bring through a new generation of Paralympic swimmers.

“I had so many people pave the way for me. Former Paralympic swimmer Erin Popovic (USA) really paved the way for me, she is one of my heroes and someone that I’ve looked up to, and she’s our team leader here.

“I always wanted to pave the way for the next generation so it is really exciting to see just the intensity and how much the movement has grown.”

The 10-day Tokyo 2020 para-swimming competition runs until Friday, Sept. 3.

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