Jessica Long Spent a Year Away from Family, Husband, to Prepare for Paralympics: 'All Worth It'
Since moving from Maryland last October to live full-time by the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, swimmer Jessica Long has spent countless hours away from her husband and family to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
"What people see is the results and the success, but not the behind-the-scenes and what we're all going through," the 29-year-old tells PEOPLE. "Like moving away from family, moving away from my husband, living out here training five to six, seven hours a day."
That means for nearly a year, outside of the occasional visit, Long — who had both of her legs amputated as a child — has traded in the comfort of home for the swimming pool. It's all a part of her quest to add more Paralympic medals to her already impressive collection of 23 — 13 of which are gold.
"It is all worth it," she says, reflecting. "But I'm definitely at a point where I'm so excited for that reunion and when I get to go back home."
"It's been really hard," she adds, "but this is a decision I really wanted to do."
Long left Colorado Springs for Tokyo on the 14th, just 10 days ahead of the start of the Paralympic Games on Tuesday. Her first event is Friday.
With the chaos that has enveloped the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Long says she's placed increased focus on her recovery and mental health. This comes in the form of reading by herself, turning on a candle, or "just being mindful," she says.
"I think in today's world, we're so busy, and we're so distracted," Long tells PEOPLE while promoting Dr. Teal's Performance Epsom Salt Soak. "But it's also really important to slow down. I enjoy my own company. But recovery, I just think that's one of my favorite ways to really take care of my mental health."
"It's taken me a long time to really work on this," she continues. "I love swimming, but swimming can't be my entire identity, my entire world. I think you're noticing more with athletes is creating a balance, and ways that I honestly recover and really take care of my mental health is I always call it my me dates. But I love just spending time with myself."
Many professional athletes have given the recovery process renewed focus in recent years, with stars such as Tom Brady and LeBron James going to (what some may call) extreme lengths to take care of their bodies and prolong their careers.
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Long says she, too, has many more years of competition left in her. Yet, she does see the eventual end. Specifically, Long says, she'd like to finish her Paralympic career stateside at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
"I love swimming. I want to see what I could continue to do in the sport," she says. "Swimming has given me so much, so many opportunities."
She is also excited to see a new generation of Paralympians earn their place in the history books, and hopes her story inspires other would-be athletes out there.
"I don't know anyone who has made it through this life, with it being super easy. Life is hard," she says of what she would tell someone with disabilities who would like to play sports. "That's what I think, but as long as you approach it with this positive attitude."
"Be positive, but it's okay to have bad days, and it's okay to have off days," Long says. "But as long as you start somewhere … But that also starts with other people, allowing people with challenges or disabilities to start. ... I really want to see that more and more. The inclusion of sports with people with disabilities."
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