The Amazing Pro-Life Story Behind Toyota’s Super Bowl Ad and Paralympic Swimmer Jessica Long

The Amazing Pro-Life Story Behind Toyota’s Super Bowl Ad and Paralympic Swimmer Jessica Long

Author: KATIE YODER   FEB 11, 2021  |

After Toyota’s Super Bowl ad captured the touching life story of Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, the media raced to report on the athlete. But many of them bypassed crucial details about the 28 year old – including her Christian faith and pro-life position.

Toyota, a partner of Team USA, highlighted the 13-time Paralympic gold medalist on Sunday. Her story is one worth telling: She was adopted from a Russian orphanage as a baby and lost both of her legs as a toddler only to become the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history. But there’s more to the story. She centers her life on God, she says, and advocates for adoption in place of abortion. That’s because, for her, “I would rather know that the baby would have a better life than I could give him or her instead of just terminating the baby.”

The minute-long ad doesn’t show all of that – but it struck a pro-life tone. The camera follows the champion athlete as she “swims” through her life story, beginning with her adoptive mother receiving a phone call informing her that little Jessica is available for adoption.

“We found a baby girl for your adoption,” a woman’s voice tells her mother, “but there’s some things you need to know.”

“She’s in Siberia, and she was born with a rare condition,” she continues. “Her legs will need to be amputated. I know this is difficult to hear. Her life, it won’t be easy.”

That didn’t deter Mrs. Long. “It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing,” she responds. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Steve and Beth Long – a Christian, homeschooling family in Baltimore, Maryland – adopted Jessica when she was just 13 months old. Her legs were amputated when she was 18 months old due to a condition called fibular hemimelia, which meant that she did not have fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of the other bones in her feet. In total, she has endured more than a dozen surgeries.

But that didn’t stop her from living life. God had a plan.

Instead of a phone call, her adoptive parents actually “went to a church meeting and they saw a picture of me,” she told I Am Second last year. “They were told that this little Russian girl has leg deformities and really needed to be adopted. And my mom just said, ‘We knew that you were the child that God wanted us to adopt.”

Jessica loves both of her mothers.

“I’ve definitely dealt with a lot of emotions and questions regarding my adoption, but I am so grateful she chose to give me life,” she wrote of her birth mom in an Instagram post in 2019. And “My mom who raised me is the most bubbly, fearless, incredible woman and I’m honored to be her daughter.”

In 2013, she traveled with one of her five siblings to meet her birth parents.

“I want them to know that I’m not angry with them,” Long said in an NBC film, shortly before a tear-filled reunion. “I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.”

Jessica is pro-adoption and pro-life, according to a Celebrate Life Magazine (CLM) story published in 2014.

“If you truly can’t care for the child and can’t give the child the life he or she deserves, I would give the child up for adoption, because there is going to be a family out there who will love that baby—no matter what the diagnosis is,” Jessica said. “I know it can seem really discouraging, but in the end, I think that if you would abort the baby, you would definitely regret it. I think, for me, that I would rather know that the baby would have a better life than I could give him or her instead of just terminating the baby.”

Jessica also believes in the power of prayer and faith, telling CLM that “It gives me all of my strength.”

But her faith journey is just that: a journey.

“I can’t think of a single childhood memory that we weren’t always at church or with our church community,” she told I Am Second. “And what I heard a lot of is that, ‘God made me this way.’”

“I knew I didn’t want anything to do with this God that made me this way,” she added. Among other things, she struggled with anger and feelings of being unwanted.

Years later at a Bible study, that changed.

 “I just think, I just couldn’t do it alone anymore,” she said, before walking over to a woman who prayed with her.

“I just said, ‘I want to give God my whole heart for once,’” she remembered. “And as soon as I prayed, it was the first time in my entire life that I felt enough.”

She stressed that it’s a process.

“I am constantly reminded every day that I need to give it to God,” she urged. “Every day when I put on these two prosthetic legs that are heavy and they still hurt me. My legs still cause me pain. And I think it’s honestly this really cool, beautiful reminder that I can’t do it on my own.”

At the end of races, she pictures God swimming along with her.

“When practices get tough or races have been hard, I just call unto Him,” she concluded. “God, this is hard.”

And she hears Him respond: “Just keep trying, Jess. I’m here with you.”


Mark Schultz

I must have felt your tears
When they took me from your arms
I’m sure I must have heard you say goodbye
Young and afraid, had you made a big mistake
Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried

But you had dreams for me
You wanted the best for me
And you made the only choice you could thatnight

You gave life to me
A brand new world to see
Like playing baseball in the yard with dad at night
Mom reading Goodnight Moon
And praying in my room
So if you worry if your choice was right
When you gave me up
Oh you gave everything to me

When Mark Schultz wrote these lyrics, he wasn’t talking to an imaginary young woman in a hard situation – he was pouring out his heart to his birth mother.

As a third-grader, Mark was looking through old baby books with his sister and noticed that his baby book didn’t have as much information as hers. He asked his mom about it, and she told little Mark that his brother and sister had just come along. “With you,” his mother told him, “we went to the hospital and decided who we wanted. We chose you because we loved you the most and thought you were the most special child there.”


“That tells a kid right there that he’s got it going on!” Mark said in an interview for Christianity Today. “I felt great about being adopted. When my sister and I would get into a fight, instead of her saying, ‘You’re adopted’ as a way to make me feel bad, I’d say, ‘Mom didn’t have a choice when she got you, but she chose me!'”

Schultz’s adoptive parents cheered him on as he played football, basketball, baseball, ran track, sang and did theater in high school. “I’d score a touchdown or whatever, and my father would yell, ‘That’s my son!’ He loved us all the same. I got the best parents in the world.”

The inspiration for “Everything to Me” came much later in life, through a conversation with an adoption worker after a benefit concert he put on for Bethany Christian Services. She had heard he was adopted and asked him about his birth mother. He replied, half-jokingly, that it didn’t seem like his birth mother wanted him.

“The woman said that if my birth mother had chosen abortion, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Mark said. “She reminded me that my birth mother carried me for nine months and made the hardest decision in her life, giving me to a family who could love me and give me the opportunities she couldn’t. She said my birth mother thought about me and not herself.”

This realization hit Mark “like a ton of bricks.” He told Growthtrac, “I thought about what I would say to my birth mom if I ever had a chance to meet her. Tears started running down my face and the only words I could come up with were, ‘Thank you for this life that you have given me.”

The process of fully comprehending his birth mother’s sacrifice deepened Mark’s love and maturity and prodded him to write the most deeply personal song he has ever recorded. Now Mark says, “I don’t take anything for granted. I wake up in the morning and thank God that I’m alive. Adoption is such a gift.”


Faith Hill

She soared to the top of both country and pop music charts with massive crossover hits including “This Kiss” and “Breathe.” She was singled out as an influential role model for Taylor Swift, the 2011 CMA Entertainer of the Year. She hasn’t produced a new album in over six years, but the live debut of her new single “Come Home” was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation. Faith Hill, whose birthmother placed her in an adoptive home when she was only a few days old, was born to be a superstar.

Faith’s adoptive parents, Ted and Edna Perry, raised Faith and their two older sons in the tiny town of Star, Mississippi. They never concealed from Faith that she was adopted, but they loved and supported her as their own daughter. When Larry King asked Faith about her “troubled childhood” in a 2006 interview, Faith responded, “I actually had a pretty amazing childhood. I was adopted, if that’s what you’re referring to, but my family, my mom and my dad and my brothers, they are amazing.” She told Larry that she grew up in a “very stable, good Christian, God-fearing home.”


One thing that always set Faith apart, however, was her passion for singing. Ted and Edna supported her in every way they could, encouraging her to sing at church, family functions, and even the ever- popular Mississippi state tobacco-spitting competition. They urged Faith to go to college, but when she decided to drop out and move to Nashville to pursue her singing dreams, Ted and Edna helped her pack her belongings into an old pickup truck. Ted rode in the back of the pickup all the way to Nashville.

Her new life in Music City did not go exactly as Faith had imagined it would. “I really believed I’d just get on the Grand Ole Opry stage, start singin’, and be on a bus travelin’ the next day,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 1994. Instead, she faced rejection after rejection. To pay the bills, she sold T- shirts, worked as a receptionist, and packaged merchandise for Reba McEntire’s company. Faith had been known and loved in Star; in Nashville she was lost and alone.

During this lonely time, Faith began to wonder about her identity, to yearn to find her roots. She wanted to find her birthmother. “There was a period of time when I first moved to Nashville, like the first couple of years, that I was just simply lost,” she told Robin Roberts in an “In the Spotlight” TV special in November. “That’s when I went on a search for my birth family. And it was all by divine intervention that it happened. It was meant for me to find her. One day, if I ever feel comfortable talking about the whole story, I will.”

When Larry King asked Faith in 2006 what it was like when she met her birthmother for the first time, Faith replied: “I’m not real sure I could intellectually answer that question. But it was pretty amazing, I have to say. She’s a wonderful woman. And the decision to give me up for an adoption, I can’t imagine that as a mother of three daughters. I can’t imagine the choice to do that, and I am so thankful that she was able to give me the opportunities that I had. I was placed into an incredible home that is basically responsible for the way I am today and the backbone that I have in order to do this for a living.”

Faith needed a strong backbone as she struggled through her first few years in Nashville, but she gradually formed relationships with people inside the music industry. She was finally discovered by Warner Bros. Records executive Martha Sharp when she was singing backup vocals for songwriter Gary Burr at the Bluebird Café, a world-famous songwriters’ performance space. Faith’s first single, “Wild One,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and stayed there for four straight weeks. She was the first female country singer to accomplish that feat in 30 years.

Faith’s career skyrocketed from that point, and her albums began to top the pop music charts as well. Her personal life took off almost as quickly. She had been through a couple of rocky relationships in Nashville, but she found love when she toured with Tim McGraw on his Spontaneous Combustion tour in the spring of 1996. They were married in the fall, and they now have three beautiful daughters.

Faith and her birthmother maintained a relationship for 15 years, until her birthmother passed away in her sleep in 2007. She also discovered that she has a full brother, and their relationship has helped her understand herself a little better. “We needed one another,” she told Robin Roberts simply.

In a recent Good Housekeeping interview, Faith tried to explain her need to find her birthmother: “I was adopted into this incredible home, a loving, positive environment, yet I had this yearning, this kind of darkness that was also inside me.” Like many artists, Faith has a passionate nature and feels things very deeply, but in all of her searching she has never harbored negative feelings against her birthmother. “I have a lot of respect for my birthmother and no feelings of anger or any of that,” said Faith. “I know she must have had a lot of love for me to want to give me what she felt was a better chance.”

Rodney Atkins

When people become famous, long-lost relatives often come out of the woodwork. That became a particular problem for country singer Rodney Atkins— who released his fourth album, Take A Back Road, last week — when he became the spokesman for the National Council for Adoption in 2008. People were coming up to him with bags of hair wanting DNA tests, and he couldn’t easily determine who his relatives were. Atkins was adopted as an infant and didn’t have any contact with his birth family.

“I needed to close that door,” said Atkins, 42, in a recent interview. So in August of 2008, Atkins went through the proper channels and reunited with his birth mother in Nashville.

“It hit me at that moment, walking in that room, getting to know her,” Atkins said. “She’s a wonderful, beautiful lady. I realized that the reason I needed to do that did not have anything to do with my parents. I’m glad I did that really, really, really for her. She’s been carrying that around, wondering what happened, and I could tell it was such a relief.”


His birth mother got pregnant at 19 after what Atkins described as a traumatic first date. She hid the pregnancy from her family, and ultimately chose to give Atkins up for adoption instead of having an abortion. For privacy reasons, Atkins did not want to reveal her identity.

“I just wanted to tell her thank you, because she had some other alternatives to end that situation,” said Atkins, pausing. “I might not be here. So you don’t want to take it for granted. … She kept saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I kept saying, ‘Thank you.'”

His birth mother went on to get married and have another son of her own. Her son revealed to Atkins that every year around springtime, his mom’s mood would change, and he never understood why until now. Atkins’ birthday is in March.

His adoptive parents, Allan and Margaret Atkins, have been completely supportive of the reunion. They even traveled down to meet Atkins’ birth mother and brought some memories with them.

“My mom put together pictures from the time I was an infant to a few years ago to catch her up and let her see what my life was like,” said Atkins.

Atkins reveals a lot about his idyllic upbringing in rural East Tennessee on his new album, Take A Back Road. The title track recently spent multiple weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and talks about taking the long way home to escape the stress of modern life.

Other songs, including He’s Mine and Growing Up Like That reflect his role as a father and the hard-working, family values he hopes to pass on to 10-year-old son Elijah. Atkins sings about the people who have meant the most to him in his song, Lifelines.

“If I spent the rest of my life getting even with the people that had helped me out, I would never settle the score,” said Atkins.

He now includes his birth mother in that group. Atkins said it took a lot of courage for his birth mother to go through life with this secret, and even more courage to reveal it to her family.

Before her own mother died recently, she was able to introduce Atkins to his grandmother.

“She had to tell her after all these years, ‘You have another grandson that I never told you about.’ I can’t imagine what she’s been carrying,” he said.

About eight months after the reunion, Atkins received a birthday package in the mail from his birth mother. She had learned that Atkins had played baseball as a kid and idolized Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey. The package contained Garvey’s MVP card, a baseball and a Dodgers jersey, all personally autographed by Garvey.

Atkins was stunned. He called his birth mom and thanked her profusely, saying she did not have to do this.

“She told me, ‘You have to understand, Rodney, to me this is your first birthday.'”

Steve Jobs

In his commencement address to Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005, Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Joanne Simpson, Jobs’ birthmother, can now connect the dots and see that her decision to place her baby boy in an adoptive home helped form him into one of most innovative and charismatic men in the business world. But as a pregnant unmarried graduate student in the 1950’s, she simply had to trust that she was making the best choices available to her for her child’s future.

Jobs’ adoption was not perfectly smooth or easy. As an educated woman, Simpson felt very strongly that her son should be adopted by college graduates. She arranged for a lawyer and his wife to adopt her baby, but they really wanted a girl. When Simpson gave birth to a son, the parents she had chosen for him backed out. Paul and Clara Jobs, who were on a waiting list, received a call that night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They answered: “Of course!”

Unfortunately for Joanne Simpson, this lower middle class couple did not fulfill her vision of the parents she wanted to raise her baby. Clara, an accountant, had never graduated from college, and Paul, a machinist, had never even graduated from high school. Simpson refused to sign the final adoption papers for several months, only relenting when they promised her that they would someday send little Steven Paul Jobs to college. Just like his birthmother, they wanted the very best for their son.

In an interview for New York Times Magazine, Steve Jobs remembers Paul as a “genius with his hands.” In addition to working as a machinist for a laser company, Paul bought cheap junkyard cars, fixed them up and sold them to students for a profit. “That was my college fund,” Jobs says. Asked what he wants to pass on to his children, Jobs answered: “Just to try to be as good a father to them as my father was to me. I think about that every day of my life.”

Since his resignation as the CEO of Apple, Inc. on August 24, 2011, Jobs has been described by many as a visionary, an innovator, a creative force, and even “the world’s magic man.” Among his many achievements, Jobs created the first truly personal computer, pioneered the ipod, iphone, ipad, etc., and helped establish Pixar. This great man began his journey to greatness by starting up a computer company in his parents’ garage. And he got to that garage because his birthmother made the difficult decision to place her son in the home of Paul and Clara Jobs. The rest of the “dots” in Jobs’ life connect back to that point.

Jim Caviezel

Bo was abandoned on a train in China soon after he was born.  He was raised in an orphanage until he was five years old and told that he never had a mommy – he came from dirt.  A large, visible brain tumor threatened his young life and took away any real hope of love or family.

A challenge from a friend led Jim Caviezel, the actor best known for portraying Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and currently starring in the CBS crime drama Person of Interest, into Bo’s life.  In an interview with the Christophers, a Christian media organization, Caviezel said, “This guy I know said, ‘You’re pro-life. Tell you what, if you really believe in what you speak, adopt a child — not any child, he’s got to have a serious deficiency.’”  Caviezel was “completely terrified” at the possibility of adopting a child with a disability, but deep within his soul, he knew that God wanted him to do it.

When Caviezel first met Bo in that Chinese orphanage, he knew that adopting Bo would mean a life of doctors and surgeries and worry and heartbreak.  But, in an interview for Catholic Digest, Caviezel said, “I saw his eyes and — this sounds like such sentimental hogwash, but I’m telling you the truth — in my heart I heard this boy calling to me, saying, ‘Will you love me?’”

Later, Caviezel and his wife, Kerri, decided to adopt another child, a healthy newborn girl.  However, before the adoption took place, they met a five year-old girl – also with a brain tumor.  “The couple stated that they knew the healthy baby would find a good home,” reports Catholic News Agency, “however it was likely that the sick girl would not.  They decided to adopt the five year-old and have been blessed ever since.”

Caviezel told Catholic Digest that he has become a new man since adopting his children.  “Dennis Quaid told me a long time ago when he had his son Jack, ‘You’ll have emotions in you that you didn’t even know existed before you had a child,’” Caviezel said.  “I now know what that feels like. Even though they’re adopted, it’s as strong as any instinct. That’s what blew me away. I always thought if I adopted that I wouldn’t have the same feeling [as I would] if they were genetically my own children. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Both Bo and his sister LeLe have required several surgeries, and Bo’s cancerous tumor has been particularly challenging, but Caviezel and his wife have felt blessed by their family above everything else.  “The other day my little girl jumped in my lap, put her hand on my face, and whispered in my ear, ‘Papa, I love you so much,’” Caviezel told Catholic Digest.  “It pulls on your heartstrings. When you come home and the kids run to you, come up and grab your leg. We have a little thing. They stand on my feet and I walk them into thekitchen and we just laugh.”

In seeking to actively live out his faith, Caviezel has seen his life fulfilled more than he ever thought was possible.  “We took the harder road,” the actor said in a article. “That is what faith is to me; it’s action. It’s the Samaritan. It’s not the one who says he is; it’s the one who does – and does without bringing attention to himself. I’m saying this because I want to encourage other people.”

When Bo, now 13, won All Star of the Month at the Victory Gymnastics Academy in March 2011, he said his future goals include being “a policeman, a fireman, and, of course, a Dad.”  He said he enjoys playing the piano, traveling to different countries with his family, and “putting things together.”  He lives with his “Mom, Dad, and sister, LeLe, who is a ballerina.”