Jessica Long, rejected and sent to a Russian orphanage by her Russian parents when she was born crippled, met her biological family for the first time earlier this month in a heartwarming moment the decorated American Paralympic swimmer called "life changing."
Long, 21, was born in Siberia with lower leg anomalies that resulted in her legs being amputated below the knee 18 months after her teenaged parents were persuaded to give her up, with doctors telling the mother that she was “still young” and would be able “to give birth to a normal child.”
Five months before the double amputation, at the age of 13 months, Long was adopted from the orphanage in Bratsk by Americans Beth and Steve Long. She grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where she was involved with many sports including gymnastics, ice skating, biking, trampoline, and swimming.
It was the sport of swimming that eventually led to Long's reunion with her biological family. Long, who has many swimming achievements, currently holds world records in 13 Paralympic events. In 2007, she became the first Paralympic athlete selected for the Sullivan Award, given to the best amateur athlete in the U.S.
While competing in the London Paralympics in 2012, her biological parents, Natalia and Oleg Valtysheva, watched her swim not knowing this was their long lost daughter, according to The Siberian Times.
Long's fame in London led Russian reporters to track down her parents, which led to the special moment earlier this month, a story that has not garnered much attention in the U.S.
Long posted the photo at top on Twitter, writing, "Meet my Russian family. I love them more than words can say. My heart is so full."
"I am glad that I came," she said, according to The Siberian Times. "I am not disappointed in anything. I met my sister Nastya, and saw that I looked very much like her. Nastya is just a year younger than I am. I gave her an elegant bracelet as a gift. It matches her hair perfectly. I also gave a necklace to my mother and a Russian-language Bible to my father.
"I really for a long time dreamed of this moment. My parents in America always told me that I was adopted. It's never been a secret to me. But who is my biological mom and dad? I learned [that] during the competition in London last year."
Part of another interview with Long was posted by RuptlyTV of Germany:
"It was amazing," Long said in the interview. "So special. I'll remember it forever. I just feel so much love towards my family. I'll end up leaving Russia with a smile on my face.
"I have no regrets. I believe it's all part of God's plan. I have only love for my mother for what she did."
At the time of Long's birth, doctors kept telling Natalia that she should give up the baby, even though they didn't really want to.
‘I started dating Oleg when I was 16,’ confessed Natalia, in tears. ‘My little girl was born pre-term and I was told that she would be an invalid for life and that she would be unable to walk. Doctors kept saying in one voice that I should give the baby up.' They told her: ‘You are still young and you will be able to give birth to a normal child.’
Natalia and Oleg did not want to abandon their newly born daughter, who they named Tanya, but his mother did not want to raise an ‘invalid’ child.
‘What a worthless thing am I? I kept thinking of her all the time. I hoped to persuade my mother-in-law to take the girl back. But then I learned that Tanya was adopted by an American couple. A year later, I gave birth to our second daughter, Nastya, who was followed by two twins, a boy and a girl.’
Nastya, like Jessica (Tanya), had health problems and was diagnosed with infantile cerebral paralysis. Natalia did not give Nastya up, and the family remained together to this day, a strong unit, apart from Jessica who was adopted by a remarkable U.S. couple to whom Natalia and Oleg say they are immensely grateful.
‘This is my cross and I carry it,’ said Natalia. [...]
'Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.’
At the reunion, Nastya gave Long a ring. Natalia gave her pickled cucumbers, figuring she had never tasted the local delicacy before. No doubt she treasured them.
Having returned from Russia, Long posted on Twitter a photo of her most recent achievement: appearing on a Wheaties billboard in Times Square, the most recent evidence of her fame (photo below).
And who knows, without such fame, Jessica Long might never have met her biological family.
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