Last year, a powerful Pro-Life ad was barred from airing during the Super Bowl. This year’s biggest night on television still did not feature a directly Pro-Life message. However, as in years past, some major corporations included stories in their commercials that demonstrate the sanctity of human Life and offered a Pro-Life vision.
This year, a Toyota advertisement told the story of Paralympic champion Jessica Long. The 13-time gold medal winner is one of the most decorated Paralympians of all time, and she trained with Michael Phelps. Toyota, which sponsors the Paralympics, featured Long’s story of international adoption and disability, truly an inspiration.
The ad, titled “Upstream,” features footage of Long, who is a double amputee, swimming, along with vignettes of Long’s early life. As Long pauses in her laps, the voice of an adoption agency worker can be heard saying, “Mrs. Long? We’ve found a baby girl for your adoption, but there’s some things you need to know.” The agency employee continues, “She was born with a rare condition. Her legs will need to be amputated… her life, it won’t be easy.”
Long’s mother in the vignette looks concerned but confident, replying, “It might not be easy but it’ll be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her.” Long was born with a rare condition called fibular hemimelia, in which part or all of the bones in the foot and ankle do not form correctly.
After the spot aired, Long posted on Instagram, “This is so special to me because I don’t think I would’ve ever imagined that me – a girl born with no legs and adopted from a Russian orphanage – would ever have this type of opportunity.” Long’s parents, Beth and Steve Long of Baltimore, Maryland, welcomed her home when she was 13-months-old. Within months, Long underwent the first of 24 surgeries, which ultimately resulted in the amputation of both of her legs below the knee.
Reflecting on making the commercial, Long wrote, “This process has reminded me that my parents wanted me truly and completely, and loved me even before my success. I feel such grace towards them for what they went through when they adopted me…No one can take away what I’ve accomplished, but my life is so much more than the medals.” In a world that discards children with conditions like Long’s and targets them for death before they are born, Long was welcomed and loved by parents on the other side of the world. The family never could have anticipated Long’s astonishing success, and her success would not have been possible without the unconditional love of her adoptive family.
Long noted, “Toyota was able to capture so beautifully the big moments, but also the small moments that are really important too.” At age 10, Long joined a swim team because her aunt noticed how much she enjoyed swimming and suggested she try. Years later and after 13 gold medals, Long writes about viewing the commercial, “Swimming has helped me get through a lot in my life. Here you get to see little Jess for the first time, hands on her hips and joining her first swim team. The scene when little Jess swims under me and I swim over her – that’s who I’m still swimming for – that little girl in the locker room who never gave up.”
Long’s mission has always been also to swim for all the girls like her facing an uncertain future with a disability. In a 2016 interview with People she said, “Winning gold medals is incredible and obviously it’s what I want to do, but there’s something so special about having a little girl who has just lost her leg from cancer come up and tell me I’m her hero.”
She added, “I remember being a little girl and having my heroes like Erin Popavich who was a Paralympic athlete and still is. So I know how important it is to have role models and I know we all hope to be role models for young girl Paralympic athletes.”
Under current law, babies with a condition like Long’s can be targeted and killed in the womb for no other reason than their disability. When there is so much fear and discrimination, Long’s story provides a powerful example of what embracing Life looks like.
The Toyota commercial ends with the words, “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.” That is a beautiful Pro-Life message.