Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Jessica Long
Jessica Long just won her 25th career Paralympic Games medal!
The bi-lateral amputee swimmer, 29, earned a gold medal on Saturday during the 200m individual medley SM8 in Tokyo.
Long, who is the most decorated active athlete at the Paralympics, pulled off her win with a 2:41.49 finish. This marks her 14th gold medal and the fourth consecutive time she’s won gold in the event at the Paralympic Games.
“I’m over the moon. I’m just so happy. To have a four-peat in the 200 IM, that’s what I’ve been dreaming of coming into these Games,” the Baltimore native said after the medley, according to a press release. “I’m really proud of myself.”
She continued, “I moved out to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center [in Colorado Springs] about a year ago. I made that very big sacrifice to be away from my family and my husband just to have this type of performance and I think it’s paid off.”
“To be able to train at altitude, swim long course and to be around an amazing group of people, I’m just really thankful,” Long added.
Buda Mendes/Getty Jessica Long
In an interview with Team USA, Long said, “This is what I came here to do.”
“This was my number one goal to four-peat in this, and it’s really hard to do especially as you get older,” she expressed. “I got a chance to call my dad before the medal ceremony, and he was expressing how proud he was of me. It’s not easy, but it was definitely worth all the sacrifices.”
Long also reflected on her career, adding, “As a 12-year-old when I won my first gold in Athens, I wanted people to know what the Paralympic games were. Each year the excitement and the build-up for the Paralympics Games has grown more and more.”
“Here in Tokyo, this is one of my favorite Paralympics I’ve ever attended,” she said.
Recently speaking to PEOPLE, Long said she has many more years of competition left in her and hopes to make it to the 2028 Games in Los Angeles to round out her career.
“I love swimming. I want to see what I could continue to do in the sport,” she said. “Swimming has given me so much, so many opportunities.”
Long 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 said 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.”
Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Jessica Long
Alongside the 25-time Paralympic medalist, team USA rookie Haven Shepherd also competed in her first Games in the 200m individual medley SM8. The 18-year-old finished in fifth.
“I just wanted to go out and do my best. I’m just a person. I like to have fun, and I definitely had fun that swim,” she told reporters, per a press release. “Going into it I knew I needed to go out fast, and that’s what I did, so I’m happy with my race.”
Shepherd, who is also a bi-lateral amputee, said, “The veterans all told me the same thing – go out and have fun. There’s nothing like your first finals. By the time you get to finals you can tell yourself you’ve made it. Even in prelims, don’t count yourself short if you didn’t make the finals.”
“That’s an accomplishment in itself, and I’m so happy to be here,” the rookie added.
In an interview with Team USA, Shepherd also expressed how amazing it was for her to swim alongside Long at the Games in Tokyo after meeting the Paralympic veteran when she was just nine years old at a Challenged Athletes Foundation gala.
“Jessica was everything to me. She looked just like me,” Shepherd shared. “Just being in the call room [in Tokyo] and sitting on the bus with her is something so special. And then being in the final heat together is something words can’t describe. Imagine being with your hero at nine years old getting her autograph and then being teammates with her and racing for the same purpose – to get gold for Team USA.”
Long also dished on their special relationship.
“It was one of her wildest dreams and goals to get to the Paralympics so to swim in a final with her was really special,” she said.
The 29-year-old recalled, “She came up in the cool down pool after and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Congratulations I knew you could do it.'”
“She’s like a little sister to me, and her mom is like a second mom to me,” Long added. “I love them.”
Thus far, Team USA has made it to the podium in each event they’ve competed in at the 2020 Paralympic Games, per a press release.
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As of Saturday afternoon, Team USA is ranked seventh in total medal count — earning 11 gold, 7 silver, and 4 bronze.
Nick Mayhugh, Susannah Scaroni, Roxanne Trunnell, Robert Griswold, Gia Pergoloni, Mallory Weggemann, Anastasia Pagonis, Ian Seidenfeld, Brad Snyder, Allysa Seely, and Long have all won gold in their respective events.
Martin Raymond, Lex Gillette, Liza Corso, Shawn Morelli, Ahalya Lettenberger, Elizabeth Marks, and Hailey Danz have scored silver medals.
In addition to Long, Tatyana McFadden, Sophia Herzog, and Jenson van Emburgh have earned bronze medals.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Paralympics air on NBC until September 5.