Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Jessica Long of Cracker Jack Is Helping To Change Our World

Posted on

You are going to have the chance to change the world and people’s perception about those with disabilities.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Long.

Jessica Long is a professional swimmer and 29-time Paralympic medalist. She has competed in five Paralympic games and holds numerous world records. She is partnering with Cracker Jack to support women’s equity in sports through the I Am Cracker Jill Award contest.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Growing up I participated in many different sports and activities. Sometimes, I would lose my leg while I was skiing or playing other sports, which would discourage me from competing. As I grew older, these types of experiences taught me I just needed to overcome distractions and keep going even when something goes wrong. I wish I had had this same mindset when I was little because it would have given me the opportunity to gain confidence at a younger age. Looking back now at this stage in my career, it is amazing how fast time goes, and I don’t take anything for granted. I’ve learned to be prepared for the unexpected, but still live in the moment!!

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I would say, “you don’t need to be the next Jessica Long or anyone else… just be you!” Having the opportunity to inspire the next generation and be a role model means the world to me, but when younger people see me compete, I want them to learn to accept themselves for who they are and believe we all can accomplish great things!

It is never going to be easy, but anything is possible when you continue to show up, be consistent and put in the necessary work. Once you find your passion, don’t be afraid — it’s important not to let others who doubt you shape your goals or hold you back.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

My dad! His love and sacrifice for me and my siblings is unparalleled. He always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

And it’s not one story — it’s the culmination of the car rides to practice and all the small moments together where we just got to talk. We spent a lot of time dreaming together, and his endless love is the reason I was able to make a career out of my passion for swimming.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?

I am so excited to be teaming up with Cracker Jack for the I Am Cracker Jill Award — a nationwide search to recognize and support the exceptional accomplishments of young women and girls in sports who are changing the face of the game. It’s awesome to see the major moment women’s sports are having right now. It’s so important we continue to celebrate and recognize the amazing accomplishments of the young women around us, who are the future of sports. For the young female athletes between the ages of 15–24, make sure you are submitting your story on! I can’t wait to read all of the entries and get inspired by these wonderful young competitors.

This program is in partnership with the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization that I have been a part of for over 15 years and am currently on the Athlete Advisory Panel. I think their mission and what they do for young girls and women is so impactful. I also support CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation), as I believe everyone should have access to sport, mobility and play!

Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

It’s important for me to share my story and my journey in the hopes of helping others who may be going through something similar. The best advice I could ever give is to keep being you. I want to show others who may look like me, or feel different, that they can do it! Know that you are not alone.

Programs like the I Am Cracker Jill Award do just that. They profile diverse athletes to show everyone that they too can succeed. We want to hear the stories of these young female athletes to celebrate them and help them to continue being amazing.

How else can we as a society continue to help spread awareness of gender sports equity?

As we’ve seen recently, more people are tuning in to women’s sports, which is great to see. The more organizations that continue to invest in women’s sports and Paralympic sports, the more attention it’ll garner. The I Am Cracker Jill Award contest is a great way to celebrate the next generation and help girls follow their sports dreams. I continue to break records so I can grow the exposure, coverage and seats at the table for all female athletes!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started as an Paralympian?”

It is going to change your life.

You are going to have best friends all around the world.

You will get to visit Australia just like you always wanted.

You are going to feel something bigger than yourself.

You are going to have the chance to change the world and people’s perception about those with disabilities.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think what we are doing with the I Am Cracker Jill Award is a great example of the importance of celebrating the young female athletes around us who are passionate about sports. We can’t lose sight of our dreams, and we should be encouraging those young women who are changing the face of the game to keep being themselves. I can’t wait to help share these stories.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“I didn’t realize it before, but the thing that makes you different is your greatest gift.” Being different has allowed me to accomplish so many things in the pool and outside of it. I always say the only disability in life is a negative attitude.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!

Jenny Han — she is the author of some of my favorite books…one of them being “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” I just want to know what happens next!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Jessica Long of Cracker Jack Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.