When 13-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long first learned that Toyota’s commercial for Super Bowl 55 would be built around her life’s story, she cried. When she saw the ad for the first time, she cried again.
The Toyota ad, which was unveiled Wednesday, tells the story of Long’s adoption from a Siberian orphanage and her journey to becoming one of the most accomplished Paralympic athletes in U.S. history. It shows the 28-year-old swimming through scenes from her life, from the orphanage to her parents’ living room — an artistic approach that she said gave her a new perspective on her own life experience.
“I’m so excited for everyone to see it, and kind of get the full story,” she said. “Not just the gold-medalist Jessica Long, but where it started, in that Russian orphanage.”
Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer Jason Schragger said the commercial was actually filmed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a year ago. As the Super Bowl approached, he said, executives at both the creative agency and Toyota considered a wide variety of ideas for the spot but found themselves drawn back to the inspiring story of Long, who was born without fibulas, ankles and heels.
Long was adopted by a Baltimore couple when she was 13 months old, and her legs were amputated below the knee five months later. In the years since, she has competed in four Paralympic Games and won 23 medals, making her the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history.
“That could be a movie, like a Netflix movie,” said Fabio Costa, the executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. “But we only had 60 seconds.”
While the agency and Toyota have been putting the finishing touches on the ad, Long has been focused on training for her fifth Paralympic Games, which are scheduled to begin in Tokyo in August after being delayed by a year due to COVID-19.
Like other swimmers, she said she had trouble accessing a pool in the months after the postponement. So she painted her condo (“that was fun!”) and focused on new training methods with the help of her physical therapist — from rowing and cycling to lifting weights.
“I definitely realized I’m more of a swimmer,” Long said with a laugh, “but I was just really thankful for all that.”
Long also felt grateful, in one sense, that the Games were delayed in the first place; She spent the bulk of 2019 planning her wedding, so the postponement gave her another year to prepare.
“I think they, the IOC, the IPC, the USOPC — they have all the athletes’ best interests (in mind). So I really trust what they decide,” Long said. “I’m kind of just focusing on the swimming part, which is what I love to do. I think we’ll cross that bridge (regarding vaccines) when we get to it.”
Long said she will be tuning into Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast — and her ad’s debut — from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she arrived last month to begin training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. She was quarantining there when she spoke with USA TODAY Sports last week.
While Long hopes the commercial can serve as an inspiring reminder for all types of Super Bowl viewers, she also acknowledged the significance of the ad for para-athletes. She credited Toyota for continuing to elevate para-athletes and celebrate them on grand stages such as the Super Bowl.
“I hope that there’s the next little girl or boy who wants to be a future Paralympian after seeing this spot,” Long said. “I think that’s what excites me so much is that it is possible, right? It’s totally possible to dream big.”
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.