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To Russia with Love - Jessica Long meets her real Siberian mom

By Anna Liesowska
07 December 2013

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'. 

Jessica Long goes to Siberia

'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. 

Jessica Long in Siberia

'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 Long in Siberia

'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.'

Comments (25)

What a beautiful story! Thank you Jessica for sharing this with the world. You have every reason to be proud of both sets of your parents. As a parent with two little boys stuck in Russia due to the ban, my heart is grieved for them, for us, but also for their birth parents who for whatever reason had to give them up. Children are a blessing, with or without a disability- and at a time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ- now we can collectively celebrate your birth as well! A true testimony of God using what was meant to harm you and turning it around for good.
Pam Romano, Jefferson, GA USA
11/12/2013 19:04
What a beautiful story, it brought tears to my eyes. What wonderful adoptive parents who gave her all the love and encouraged her in all things. Never keeping her background secret. Obviously Christians. God bless them all and the beautiful reunion.
Valya , Perth, Scotland
07/12/2013 23:38
Dear Janet,

thank you so much for you comment; would it be possible to get your email address and if so, would you please get in touch with us via

Many thanks again,
The Siberian Times
The Siberian Times ,
08/12/2013 21:41
This is all part of God's Providence in His great plan of redemption. I pray that through Jessica's journey to meet her birth family, that they too would realize this and come to trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
Rev. David Lewis, Baltimore/USA
08/12/2013 04:04
Jessica's story is nothing short of incredible! She is amazing and a role model for adoptees and athletes around the world. I have to agree with Rochelle. Jessica's "real" parents are the parents who raised, loved, and guided her to her present station in life. Jessica's "birth" parents are the Russians who gave her life. While they couldn't keep and care for her, they absolutely did the right thing in placing her (not "giving her up") for adoption. Jessica hit the jackpot twice, just as I did many years before her. I like to say that my birth mother gave me 'life,' and my adoptive parents gave me 'a life'. Big difference! I am so glad that she is getting to know both families. May she continue to attain every goal to which she aspires. Thanks to the Siberian Times for this touching story. Adoptees everywhere, and their parents, cannot read it without shedding tears of joy!
Betty Westmoreland, Collierville/USA
24/02/2014 04:42
Wonderful story and one close to my heart! I only wished the writer would have used the word "biological mother" instead of "real mother" when talking about Jessica's birth mother, Natalia. In fact, she used the word "real" every time when describing Natalia. Maybe this story was translated from Russian, or the writer was unaware of the semantics of "real" and "biological."

Obviously, had Jessica's bio parents kept her and raised her in Siberia, she would have never become a world-class swimmer. So, her "real" parents are the Longs of Baltimore.

I am the "real" mother of a boy my husband and I adopted from Vladivostok, Russia in 2007. His mother abandoned him at birth and we were told from the beginning that he would have "mental" issues because his birth mother had learning disabilities and behavior problems. Our beautiful boy is Autistic, but extremely bright, articulate and creative. God has blessed all of us.
Rochelle Kaplan, San Clemente, CA, USA
23/02/2014 11:55
Thank you Jessica for sharing your lovely, very moving story with all of America. So glad for the wonderful visit you were able to have with your birth family. Seeing the tears of your bio parents, it's obvious they never forgot about you. I also think your American parents are very special people. I am happy to know you are a Christian and know none of this was an accident but all part of his plan.May the Lord bless you all your life. I too am adopted but never met anyone from birth family.
Janet Murchison, Lakeland, FL USA
23/02/2014 08:30
To Mikhail from Moscow -- we had to do attachment therapy with our son who was adopted from Russia and showed some signs of RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Attachment therapy is actually great, if done right. We did lots of games and exercises that emphasized eye contact, healthy touch and sensory integration. It really helped our son bond. Here's some examples of attachment therapy exercises (we didn't do all of them, but it should give you an idea) --, . Hope this helps.
Anna, USA
23/02/2014 09:44
This is an amazing story! We adopted a little girl from Russia and was able to bring her home in January 2013...just after the ban went into effect. She was one of the last children who was able to come home to America. I am SO saddened for all of those children that had families who wanted to adopt them, but were not able to because of the ban.
Sherry, California, USA
23/02/2014 09:36
Im very emocional to hear this story and l hope young parents think about giving in adoption before thinking in abortion Jessica is an example of been given a second opportunity for life thanks God that she found those parents that adopted her knowing her condition for me they were the angels that God sent to her to help her to show the word that important decition on life and thanks to the real mom for choosing life
Elsita, United States
09/02/2021 22:31
We also adopted from Russia. It hurts me to think that there are more children like Jessica, my son, or my friends' children laying in baby homes without the chance of finding a Mommy and a Daddy. Her story should be shared with Putin and other Russian officials who want to think we in the US don't take care of the children we adopted. Now my son has watched the Olympics and wants to return to Russia to visit his friends. One day we will return so he can always be proud of where he was born. You have a rich, amazing culture in Russia that I want him to know. I would love to go back and adopt again from Russia. I can only pray that our countries will start to think about the children, not just politics. Children deserve a family. They deserve a Mom and a Dad. Why does politics have to crush a child's dream of a forever family? Please share more amazing adoption stories like Jessica's. There are many out there.
Melissa Pronovost, Terryville, USA
24/02/2014 05:59
Beautiful story with happy end... May God bless all who helped Jessica to find her parents.
Yuriy, Minneapolis, USA(Russia, Irkutsk)
03/01/2014 05:53
US does not control and not protection of Russian foster children. In the US, a thriving cult pseudoscientific Attachments therapy. US does not want to recognize the problems and protect Russian foster children. This is sad. Russia for 10 years, tried to negotiate with the United States. There were repeated calls and threats to close the adoption. U.S. ignored the moans Russia. Even this year, the US Supreme Court again acquitted criminal negligence adopters Shatto. 10 years is a sufficient period of time to understand that Russia is concerned about the safety of Russian children in the United States. America for a long time ignored cries and threats to Russia.
Mikhail, Moscow
24/12/2013 15:57
I'm going to do Paralympics Judo with future child (Gwen with autism) watching, because Paralympics Judo gives the visually impaired (me) special opportunities, because we VI people are special!
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI
27/01/2016 05:57
Five feet four inches as an adult I will be (that's the average American female height; 5'4" tall), as I do Paralympics Powerlifting and I bench press 400 pounds...despite being 5'4" and 42 kg (94 pounds) as an adult.
No, the average American height for woman is 5'4" tall! At powerlifting, I will do powerlifting to go to Japan to lift 400 pounds, AND to adopt Nina Kobayashi Prior, a June 13, 155 cm (petite or small 5'1"), and autistic 15 or 16 year old girl. Nina means "girl" and Nina will have Asperger Syndrome (form of autism).
Nina won't be defined by her Asperger Syndrome (under the label of "autism.") Because if it's a syndrome, Asperger Syndrome means she will have moderate autism due to visual impairment and seizures at birth. Nina, like me, will do Paralympics Powerlifting. Epilepsy is when you have seizures, and it can be scary to have someone tell you that you have epilepsy (seizures). With blonde hair and blue eyes! Nina!
Hannah Kim, Haslett, MI
26/01/2016 06:33

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