US Paralympic star on emotional journey back to her roots to meet the parents who gave her up for adoption.
'I really for a long time dreamed of this moment. My parents in America always told me that I was adopted,' said the US star, an inspiration to her many fans around the world. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV
The record breaking swimmer was today meeting the mother who rejected her as a severely disabled baby. The meeting came after Jessica travelled halfway round the world on a visit to her past, accompanied by an NBC film crew.
'I have a feeling that this trip was conceived by God. I do not know how my life would have developed if I had stayed in Russia. I'm very excited about meeting the family. The first time I see my father and mother,' she said as she travelled to Irkutsk region.
Her parents gave her up as teenagers, feeling they could not cope with a child suffering from such physical handicaps. When they watched her at the London Paralympics in 2012 winning swimming medals, they did not realise this was their long lost daughter.
'I really for a long time dreamed of this moment. My parents in America always told me that I was adopted,' said the US star, an inspiration to her many fans around the world. 'It's never been a secret to me. But who is my biological mom and dad, I learned during the competition in London last year'.
Jessica had planned to visit Siberia earlier, and now she has come with her sister Hannah, to have emotional support.
'It took me a long time to collect my thoughts and realise it. I and my whole family are very worried about me.'
Hannah said: 'We thought it would be cool to go together. Jessica wanted someone to be with her during the meeting with the family'.
'I think that real disability is a negative attitude towards life. Despite the fact that I have no legs below the knees, I do not consider myself disabled. Picture: Jessica Long
Jessica was adopted aged one by American couple Beth and Steve Long from an orphanage in Bratsk, some 2,350 miles east of Moscow, and she grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Her adoptive parents showered her with love and enabled her to reach remarkable heights, overcoming her handicap - she was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of bones in her feet - to become one of the United States' most inspirational sportswomen having won a dozen gold medals in three Paralympics.
Her fame in London led to Russian journalists tracking down her real parents who remained together as a family. Today's meeting is also traumatic and emotional for real mother Natalia Valtysheva, now 39, who has told how she was faced with an impossible decision after her daughter's birth.
Shortly before the meeting, she said: 'How long I am waiting for Jessica? I do not need such questions. Excuse me please.'
'I feel so sorry,' she said. 'At that time - there was some fear, I got scared. I had to leave her behind. But I did think that I would take her back. Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.'
She stressed: 'I was alone in Siberia, without my mother and father. Where would I go with her, if I had taken her? Doctors told me to leave her behind - said that I could not help her. I called her Tatiana, after my elder sister'.
She already knew Jessica's feelings before the meeting: 'I'm not angry with her. I just want to meet her. I think we have a lot in common. I know that one day I will have a family and I will have kids, and you know what, I would like to call my daughter Natalia, the name of my Russian mother who gave birth to me.'
Tatiana's then boyfriend - now her husband - said the couple felt pressurised by doctors to make the decision to give her up. He was only 17 when Jessica was born, and the couple - who have since had three more children including another disabled daughter, Dasha, 13, born with a similar condition to Jessica, who they care for at their village home.
'I know that one day I will have a family and I will have kids, and you know what, I would like to call my daughter Natalia, the name of my Russian mother who gave birth to me'. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV
'What could I have said? I couldn't say anything because I was not ready for this. I was very shocked with the whole thing,' Jessica's father recalled. 'I don't want to say anything bad about the doctors. They said: 'The girl has deformities and you are young, it's going to be hard'.'
He said 'of course' he and Natalia wanted to take little Tatiana (now Jessica) home, but seemed to find recalling this moment too painful to find words to explain it fully. He did, though, express his deep pride over Jessica's life and achievements in America, and very much wishes to meet a daughter he only even saw for a few minutes in the maternity hospital.
'Of course I'm happy that we found her, glad for her and I am proud. And of course I want to meet her'.
Natalia was convinced she would be able to go back for Jessica later, despite signing away her parental rights in the days after her baby's birth.
'On 6 July 1993 I gave birth to my second daughter Nastya, and on the 9 July American parents adopted Jessica', she said. 'Babies are normally kept in the baby orphanage until the age of three, and I was sure nobody would adopt her. I was getting information about my daughter, that she was growing up pretty, that everybody loves her. And then I got information that she was being adopted to America.'
'Jessica's adoptive parents showered her with love and enabled her to reach remarkable heights, overcoming her handicap - she was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of bones in her feet - to become one of the United States' most inspirational sportswomen having won a dozen gold medals in three Paralympics'. Picture: Vesti Irkutsk TV
Jessica this week met Nina Murzina who has worked with children at the orphanage for 56 years. She remembers the day when little Jessica (at that moment she had name Tanya) was brought into the child's house. 'I remember her as little blond pretty girl when she was brought to us from the hospital, she was so pretty. Well, with such a defect - she had sore feet. She grew in our group.'
Olga Milyutina was on duty when Stive came to take the girl. 'Steve, her dad, took her away. They decided to adopt this little girl, they liked her, they chose her from a photograph. They looked for children who have been abandoned, and liked this girl.'
Jessica now says: 'My advice - never give up. I am a Christian and I believe very strongly in God. I think that real disability is a negative attitude towards life. Despite the fact that I have no legs below the knees, I do not consider myself disabled. And I hope that people who know my story will be inspired. You know, to be adopted - this is great. And there are so many orphans who need a home.'
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