Paralympic Swimmer Jessica Long Shares Her Adoption Story in Toyota’s “Upstream” Ad

Who is the swimmer in the Toyota commercial? The ad shows the life story of Paralympic champion Jessica Long, who has 35 medals to her name.


Jul. 31 2021, Published 11:14 a.m. ET

If you’re wondering who the swimmer in the Toyota commercial is, you probably already know a bit about Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long’s family history.

In the minute-long ad—which debuted at this year's Super Bowl and has gotten more airplay during the Tokyo Olympics—Long literally swims through her life story, from a Russian orphanage to her adoptive parents’ living room to her Paralympic races.

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And as we see various moments from Jessica’s life, we hear an adoption worker phoning Jessica’s mom to explain that an infant from Siberia needs a home, that this little girl needs a double amputation, and that her life won’t be easy.

“It might not be easy,” Jessica’s mom replies, as an adult Jessica watches her parents deciding to adopt her. “But it’ll be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her.”

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The ad, titled “Upstream,” is an emotional tribute to perseverance and parental love, and one that brings many viewers to tears, including Jessica herself.

“Those emotions and that smile were completely real,” Jessica said in a Toyota press release. “At moments, I was tearing up in my goggles right on set.”

In an interview with USA Today, Jessica said she’s not usually a crier, but she shed tears when Toyota first pitched the idea to her, and again when she saw the finished commercial. “This definitely just pulled out that emotion. It was so overwhelming, in the best way.”

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Jessica has gone from 25 surgeries to 35 medals.

The ad is also based in reality: Jessica was 13 months old when Beth and Steven Long adopted her and her adoptive brother, Joshua, from a Russian orphanage, according to the press release. Jessica was born with a rare condition called fibular hemimelia, meaning her fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of the bones in her feet were missing. She has undergone more than 25 surgeries, starting from when she was 18 months old.

Nevertheless, Jessica has become one of the world’s most decorated swimmers, according to her International Paralympic Committee bio. She has won 29 gold medals, eight silvers, and four bronzes at various events, including 13 gold medals from the last four Paralympic Games.

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Jessica hopes the ad will inspire future Paralympian.

“Upstream” is an inspiration to all of us, including Jessica, who’s currently gearing up for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which start on Aug. 24. “Watching ‘Upstream’ helped me realize that everything was always going to be OK,” she said in the press release. “There was always a plan. It takes me back to those moments of doubt. But now I can say, ‘This is why. You were always going to be able to share your story and inspire people on a whole different level.’”

And to USA Today, the 29-year-old said, “I hope that there’s the next little girl or boy who wants to be a future Paralympian after seeing this spot. I think that’s what excites me so much, is that it is possible, right? It’s totally possible to dream big.”

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