Three Paralympic Golds

For Maryland Swimmer

* When 12-year-old swimmer Jessica Long comes back this week from Athens, Greece, her suitcase will have some extra weight -- from the three gold medals she won in the 2004 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic Games are the equivalent of the Olympics for athletes with a disability.

The three first-place wins came as "a really big surprise" to the Middle River, Maryland, girl, who was profiled in KidsPost earlier this month.

"I would have been happy just to get any medal," Jessica said from Athens yesterday.

Jessica, who was born with abnormal bones in her lower legs and had both legs amputated when she was a baby, is the youngest member of the U.S. team.

Her first win came in the 100-meter freestyle, which Jessica swam in 1 minute 9.67 seconds, setting a Paralympic record in her disability class. Then she and three teammates, swimming in the 4x100-meter relay, beat out Canada and Australia with a time of 4:40.57. Jessica's strong swimming in the third leg of the relay moved the team from second into the lead position. On Friday, she won the 400-meter freestyle with a time of 5:07.88, another Paralympic record.

How did she do so well in her first Paralympics? "I just swam really hard," she said. "I really pushed it."

On a sad note, a bus carrying students to the Paralympics crashed yesterday, and seven teenagers were killed. Part of the closing ceremonies were canceled out of respect for those who died.

Jessica Long, 12, won three races, set two records.