This is the heartwarming moment that US Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long met her Siberian parents for the first time after they rejected her because of her disability. The 21-year-old posted the image on Twitter with the words ‘Meet my Russian family. I love them more than words can say. My heart is so full’.
Long travelled to the village of Tem in the Irkutsk region of Siberia to meet her biological parents Natalia and Oleg Valtysheva who gave her up to a grim orphanage, convinced by doctors that they could not care for their ‘crippled’ baby
The couple, who are still together today and went on to have three other children, started dating when Natalia was just 16-years-old.
The baby, who the couple called Tanya, was then adopted by American couple Beth and Steve Long from the orphanage in Bratsk and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.
Natalia said: ‘What a worthless thing am I? I kept thinking of her all the time… but then I learned that Tanya was adopted by an American couple.’
The Siberian couple had no idea that their biological daughter gone to be a world champion swimmer until Russian journalists tracked down the couple after Long’s success at the London Paralympics last year.
Long said she had always known that she was adopted but had never known the true identity of her biological parents.
Long, who has won 12 gold medals at three Paralympics, was born without heels, ankles and fibulas as well as most of the bones in her feet, a condition known as fibular hemimelia.
Her legs were amputated when she was just 18-months-old and she learned to walk with prostheses.
Before she met her parents in Siberia, Long visited the orphanage in Bratsk on the trip she called ‘life changing moments’.
Natalia and Oleg had their second daughter Nastya a year after Long and despite being born with a similar condition, infantile cerebral paralysis, but they decided to keep her.
They also now have twins, a boy and a girl.
Long’s mother works as a cleaner in the village school and Oleg drives a logging truck.
During their reunion, Natalia gave her daughter the local delicacy of pickled cucumbers.
Long gave her mother a necklace and a Russian-language bible to Oleg, her father.
Long was just 12-years-old and the youngest competitor on the U.S. Paralympic team when she won three gold medals at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Greece.
She is currently the world record holder in 13 Paralympic events.