Sunday, July 21, 2019


It hardly sounds like nonfiction: “From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion,” but this is Jessica Long’s autobiography written with her sister Hannah. Born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, Jessica had no ankles, heels or most of the bones in her lower legs. She was adopted by an American family in Baltimore, Maryland, and eventually had both legs amputated below the knee. There were six children in the Long family, including another little boy adopted from Russia. 

            From early childhood, Jessica was “determined to dominate at everything I did,” including climbing on top of the refrigerator! 
            “I made the daily choice to not let anything hold me back, especially my legs.”
            Initially, she excelled at gymnastics: “I walk on my knees. I’m just a little shorter.” By age 10, she discovered water and started beating girls with legs. “It’s all about technique and how you can work the water. Giving up was never an option.”
            Jessica swam her first Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004. At the games in Beijing in 2008, she felt she had failed because she won “only” four gold medals, along with a silver and a bronze.  But then she added modeling and public speaking to her accomplishments and has now told her own story in a young adult autobiography.
            Jessica’s story is inspirational and often funny. “My high-heel legs, or ‘sexy legs,’ were created using my sister’s feet…they molded her feet at a four-inch arch and used those molds to make my prosthetic feet.” She showed off her new legs on Twitter!

            Jessica challenges herself in and out of the water, but her experiences will tantalize young writers as well.
            She has rituals before every race, including eating a banana, clapping her hands three times and shaking her arms out.

·       What do you do to calm or inspire yourself or give you good luck before a match, game or special event? Why do you think it helps?

Jessica was always willing to try something new.
·       What is something new you tried to do? How did you feel? What did you learn from the experience?

Jessica is rightly proud of her accomplishments.
·       Write about something in your life that gives you great pride – don’t worry about being boastful. This is your time to “show and tell” on a piece of paper!

Jessica likes posing for photo shoots and often did this with her siblings.  Elle decided to use a picture of me on a couch, posing on my knees without my prosthetics…It was really cool to be part of something that showed how people with disabilities an do the same things as everyone else, including model.”  
·       Have students pair off and take flattering photos of each other. Write an “artist statement” about your photo, explaining why you chose a particular pose or background and what you want people to learn from the photo.

Finally, think about Jessica’s story overall and write your thoughts about what qualities and factors in her life enabled her to overcome great challenges and contribute to her success. Then think about what qualities and factors in your own life could help you be successful – and unsinkable.


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