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US Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long reunited with Siberian parents

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  • Long travelled to the Siberian village of Tem to meet her biological family for the first time
  • Her biological parents were teenagers when they had Long and were convinced they could not cope with caring for her
  • Long was adopted by an American couple and grew up in Baltimore
  • She has won 12 gold medals at three Paralympic Games

By Alex Ward

PUBLISHED: 08:12 EST, 16 December 2013 | UPDATED: 08:39 EST, 16 December 2013

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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.

U.S. Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long

'My heart is so full': U.S. Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long (centre) was reunited with her biological parents Natalia (second from left) and Oleg Valtysheva (first from right) and her siblings (first from left and second from right) in Siberia after the couple gave her up because she was 'crippled'

The couple, who are still together today and went on to have three other children, started dating when Natalia was just 16-years-old.

She told the Siberian Times: ‘My little girl was born pre-term and I was told that she would be an invalid for life and that she would be unable to walk.’ 

Jessica Long
Jessica Long

'Life changing moments': Long shared her excitement about her family reunion on Twitter with her 11,400 followers

Long travelled to Bratsk, visiting the orphanage before meeting her family who learned of her identity after Russian journalists traced the Siberian family members down

Warmly welcomed: Long travelled to Bratsk, visiting the orphanage before meeting her family who learned of her identity after Russian journalists traced the Siberian family members down

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.

The Valtyshevas, who were teenagers when they gave birth to Long (pictured as a toddler), were convinced by doctors that they could not cope with their 'crippled' daughter

Given away for disability: The Valtyshevas, who were teenagers when they gave birth to Long (pictured as a toddler), were convinced by doctors that they could not cope with their 'crippled' daughter

One of the most successful American Paralympians: Long (pictured at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics) has won 12 gold medals at three Paralympic Games

One of the most successful American Paralympians: Long (pictured at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics) has won 12 gold medals at three Paralympic Games

Jessica Long
Jessica Long

Growing up in America: Long (pictured as a baby, right, and as a young girl, left) was adopted by American couple Beth and Steve Long and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland

Jessica Long's biological father Oleg Valtysheva

Thought of her all the time: Natalia and Oleg (pictured) did not know that Long had grown up to become a world champion Paralympic swimmer

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.

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