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From Russian orphanage to American champion: Super Bowl ad highlights Paralympian Jessica Long's journey

The Maryland native says the commercial titled ‘Upstream’ represents her life and the obstacles she has overcome to be a 23-time Paralympic medalist.

WASHINGTON — The Toyota Super Bowl ad showcasing Paralympic medalist Jessica Long’s life had America wiping tears.

The commercial featured the 23-time Paralympic medalist and Maryland native swimming through her journey from a Russian orphanage to become an American champion.

“I think that's one thing about this beautiful spot that Toyota created is just, it really does highlight so many moments of my life that I never thought would be showcased,” Long said.

Despite her young age, Long is one of the world’s most decorated swimmers with 23 Paralympic medals, including 13 golds, according to Paralympic.org.

Long said through her life so many people have been impressed with what she’s been able to do in the water but said there have been so many hard moments where she had to persevere along the way.

“Adoption was really tough for me at times or wondering what it would be like to join a swim team as a girl with no legs,” Long said.

Long was adopted from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old. The commercial recreates the conversation her mother, played by an actor, had with the adoption agency as she learned about the challenges she would face with amputation.

“I think what makes this so emotional for me is that there really were so many hard moments that people didn't see. There were moments of going back and forth into surgery. I can remember crawling onto the operating table and just knowing what to do, as a three-year-old, and holding my parents’ hand as they gave me the anesthesia and knowing that I would be back in the operating room in a couple of months,” Long said.

Long was born with a rare condition that required her to have her legs amputated below the knees.

“I was always really really tough and I was always really really strong and I always thought you know quitting wasn't an option, but it also didn't come without a lot of just being scared at times or also thinking, why me," Long said "I didn't sign up to be an amputee, it was the life that I was given. And I have always decided to make the best of it but there were a lot of really tough moments."

Credit: AP
Jessica Long of the United States smiles during the medal ceremony after winning gold in the women's 400m Freestyle S8 category at the 2012 Paralympics, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The commercial detailing her life is called ‘Upstream’ and Long said the idea of swimming upstream represents her life, as she has never had it easy yet kept pushing forward.

“I think everyone has moments in their life that they really struggle when life gets hard, it's really hard to keep moving forward. And that's something that I've tried to do my whole life,” Long said.

Long began competitive swim in the early 2000s. By age 12, she was a member of the U.S. Paralympic team and competed at the Athens 2004 Games where she won three gold medals, according to Paralympic.org.

RELATED: Toyota Super Bowl ad highlights Paralympian's journey from orphan to champion

She said as someone who isn’t emotional, there have been times she has stood on the medal podium winning a gold medal and not shed a tear. But she said watching the ad showcasing her life brought deep emotions out.

“This is really really special and if anything, it really did spark a lot of really sweet conversations,” Long said.

She said a lot of people have sent her messages asking advice and thanking her for what she represents in the adoption and Paralympic communities.

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“I've had moms that had adopted or they have a kid with challenges and just like thank you, this is really great representation, which is just very powerful. I really feel like I have so many different groups that I can reach with my story,” Long said.

Long is currently training at the Paralympic facility for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics.

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