Toyota was looking for an inspirational figure to star in an uplifting Super Bowl commercial, and the company found one in 13-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long. Born in Siberia, Long was adopted by a family in Baltimore, Maryland, and had her legs amputated in the first two years of her life.
When Long was told a Super Bowl commercial would be built around her life’s story, she said she cried. The tears came again when she saw the ad for the first time.
So proud and honored to be a Team Toyota athlete. This is a moment I’ll remember forever 🤍 https://t.co/aPHWFewDNT
— Jessica Long (@JessicaLong) February 3, 2021
“I hope that there’s the next little girl or boy who wants to be a future Paralympian after seeing this spot,” Long told USA Today. “I think that’s what excites me so much is that it is possible, right? It’s totally possible to dream big.”
The ad was praised by many after airing:
Well, this may just be our favorite #SuperBowl ad of all time.
— Women's Sports Foundation (@WomensSportsFdn) February 5, 2021
— Lauren Chamberlain (@LChamberlain44) February 5, 2021
❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ bravo, @toyota!
— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) February 5, 2021
Incredible👏 Inspiring girls everywhere #YouCanBeAnything
— Barbie (@Barbie) February 8, 2021
Long has long been a Paralympic legend. She became the youngest Paralympian ever to win a gold medal when she took home gold in 2004 at the age of 12. The accolades and sponsorship deals kept coming, but Long never felt satisfied or content. That all changed when she decided to fully commit her life to Christ in the buildup to the 2012 Paralympics.
While Long was in London for the 2012 Games, she was told that someone had tracked down her birth parents in Russia. NBC asked if she wanted to take a camera crew and meet them. Long said yes, though the experience was a challenging one.
“It was hard,” Long said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in August 2020. “It was one of the hardest things. I think in that moment, I truly felt forgiveness. God had forgiven me so I felt like I could forgive [my birth mom]. And now in my life, a lot of people can’t always relate to being an amputee but I’ve gotten so many good responses about the adoption piece and not feeling enough. And that’s been really cool.”
Long had the best showing of her career in London, taking home five goal medals, two silvers and a bronze. The three-time ESPY Award winner was named the U.S. Paralympic SportsWoman of the Year for her performance.
Things did not go quite as well for Long four years later in Rio de Janeiro. She had to wait 10 days to capture her only gold medal, which came in the 200-meter individual medley. For someone who’d known nothing but success for practically her entire athletic career, it was an opportunity to lean on God and remember where her identity ultimately lies.
“I really learned [at the 2016 Paralympics], at those lowest points in our careers, our athletic careers, just to rely on God in those moments,” Long said on the podcast. “And that’s something that I really learned. I didn’t really learn that when I was winning.”
The soon-to-be 29-year-old has been been faced with a different kind of challenge in preparing for the 2021 Paralympics, which were pushed back a year due to the pandemic. Like every other Paralympian and Olympian, Long’s been forced to deal with the disappointment of not being able to compete in 2020 while also doing whatever she can to stay sharp for 2021. The Tokyo Paralympic Games are now scheduled to begin on Aug. 24 and end Sept. 5.
Long’s remarkable story of perseverance and forgiveness has taught her that God is present in the good times as well as the bad.
“When you’re at your lowest point and you don’t understand why it’s happening, I think those are the biggest life lessons, that God is still there through all of that pain,” she said on the podcast.
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