Jessica Long—the second-most decorated Paralympian in United States history—has a talent for being immediately relatable. Whether she’s doing TikTok challenges or joking about the people who call her “inspiring,” Long exudes the warmth of your favorite workout class instructor who just so happens to be a record-setting swimmer and has trained alongside Michael Phelps.
The 29-year-old, a bilateral below-knee amputee who won her first Paralympic gold medal at 12, is committed to changing the narrative that people with disabilities are inspiring for grabbing a latte. Though she has lots of patience and compassion for people who have questions (on TikTok and IRL), she does get frustrated by people who are impressed by her existence. “That shouldn’t be inspiring,” Long tells SELF. “But I love being an inspiration for my accomplishments.”
Given the magnitude of those accomplishments, Long granted herself a training reprieve when she married her boyfriend of four years, Lucas Winters, in October 2019. Long gushes about how excited she is to have her husband’s support during this chapter of her career, “but I didn’t want swimming to take over,” she says. “My first priority was the wedding.”
The couple married three weeks after the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships (where Long medaled in several events) and spent two weeks in December honeymooning in South Africa. “By the time we entered January 2020, I was playing catch up with my training,” Long explains. But she doesn’t have any regrets. “I was like, ‘I’m going to enjoy this time of my life. Hopefully, you only get married once.’”
Long was just finding her groove when the Paralympic Games were postponed in March 2020. “I had to grieve,” she recalls. “I painted our entire condo. But I remember thinking, I have a choice to lose all this endurance that I just built up in the past three months. I was still struggling, but I felt like I could either press on or let the negativity be toxic and heavy.”
So Long got creative. Like many of us, her quarantine exercise included YouTube videos. “I was running around the couch. I went outside a lot,” she says. And a few months later (“I was out of the water for exactly 75 days”), Long was back to a more traditional swim training routine in pretty good shape, she says, noting that even she was a little surprised.
As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics approach, Long is savoring the training and even the nerves. Below, she talks to SELF about her bedtime schedule, her favorite products, and how she’ll handle sleeping during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games.
I sleep really well, but I’m definitely a little bit of a diva.
I’ll complain like, “I’m freezing, or my shoulders hurt.” And I have to lie a certain way, but I sleep really well. I really love to sleep. I think that’s an amputee thing because I’m exhausted throughout the day. My legs hurt a lot during the day, and I only have a certain amount of energy to give.
People often drain me—I’m definitely an introvert. So I love my bedtime routine because it’s “me” time.
Bedtime is truly one of my favorite times. That’s when I recharge, knowing that I’m going to replenish my skin and my body. I end almost every night with an Epsom salt bath. I love Epsom salts. Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt is my favorite. It’s perfect for helping me get ready for bed.