Birthdate: Conner - 2004, Cayden - 2006
OK, so the boys share this brotherly love that’s uncharacteristic for boys their age—no big deal! They are biological brothers for crying out loud! We might not see anything remarkable in that until we witness the children race a la Team Hoyt.
Team Long Brothers’ Triathlon Journey at a Glance
Cayden Long, like Rick Hoyt, is a special contender in Triathlon events. When he was only about four months old, his parents noticed that his development was quite delayed for an infant his age. His eyes also began to cross and the small size of his head became apparent. That’s when Jeff and Jenny Long had their baby checked. Both Jenny and Jeff feared that their baby might be suffering from a deficiency of some sort.
The trip to the doctor was followed by a series of tests that eventually pointed to cerebral palsy. They were told that their second baby, unlike their first-born, will neither walk nor talk. He must be taken care of and he will never do the things normal kids do. In short, Jeff and Jenny were told how doomed baby Cayden’s future is.
Being devout Christians, the couple accepted their son’s fate and left the rest up to God. Cayden, in spite of his circumstance, was treated like a wonderful gift to the Long family. They raised their eldest son, Conner, to love his baby brother with all his heart because he will be needing as much love and acceptance their family could give. The young parents knew that their son is facing a grim future, not only because of his lifetime dependence on others but because of how cruel the world is to people like him. They showered the boy with love and made life as normal for him as possible.
Given the extra attention Jeff and Jenny lavish on their second son, Conner did not harbor ill feelings towards his brother. Like his parents, he only wanted for Cayden to feel loved and protected. But no matter how much he loved Cayden for what he is, Conner was just a typical kid who yearned to explore the world, play pranks, do fun things together with his younger sibling. All of those were nearly impossible to do because of Cayden’s special needs.
But all that changed when Conner saw an ad of the Nashville Kids Triathlon in the paper his mother was reading. Conner saw pictures of kids competing in the event. Curious, he asked his mother if he could join. She was about to say yes when Conner asked another question. His eldest wanted to know if he could compete with his brother Cayden as a team. It took her aback.
Jenny was not sure if the organizers would allow the boys to join given Cayden’s special condition. One look at Conner’s determined face convinced her that it’s worth giving a try. The next thing they knew, Jeff and Jenny were among the crowd of ecstatic parents cheering for their children. What made Jeff and Jenny different among other parents is that they have two kids joining the event.
Since Cayden is incapable of walking, the organizers had to find a way to get him the necessary equipment for swimming, cycling, and running. He did all three with his brother Conner towing and pushing him to the finish line. The boys finished second to the last in the race.
The Nashville Kids Triathlon was only the first of the 14 events they have participated in by now. Team Long Brothers have gone a long way from the inexperienced and anonymous team of seven and five–year–old boys. They now train and have more sophisticated equipment to help them efficiently race during their competitions.
Although Team Long Brothers is yet to experience bagging the first place, Conner and Cayden were victors in the eyes of each other, their parents, and the many people they have inspired with their amazing brotherly love.
Team Long Brothers only came to be in 2011, so there were no sufficient accounts to come up with for a substantial biography. For now, snippets of information about the brothers make up their extraordinary story. Besides, they are just beginning their journey as individuals, as agents of change, as sources of inspiration.
Conner, Cayden, and Cooper
Jeff and Jenny Long of White House, Tennessee had their firstborn in 2004. They named their healthy baby boy, Conner. He was the sole apple of their eyes until Jenny found out two years later that she is again in the family way. Although unplanned, the pregnancy was a welcome surprise to the Long family. Jenny was not expecting to get pregnant so quickly after giving birth to Conner.
In 2006, Jenny gave birth to another boy, whom they named Cayden. Jeff, for the second time around, became a proud father. But the baby’s mother and father were not as excited as little Conner was. He was the happiest among them upon the birth of his brother.
Having experienced parenthood with Conner, Jenny noticed something amiss Cayden’s development. His head seemed to be too small for his body and his reflexes were not like Conner. At four months, Cayden’s eyes began to cross. That’s when Jeff and Jenny decided to bring him to a specialist. After doing a series of tests, doctors concurred that Cayden has spastic cerebral palsy.
People with spastic cerebral palsy suffer from hypertonia, a case wherein brain motors have lesions causing spasms and rendering the individual incapable of speaking and walking. In Cayden’s case, he can move but not in a way that is voluntary. The tests also showed that the boy has microcephaly, which is why his head is small for his age. Microcephaly is more than a physiological disorder. People with microcephaly have “neurodevelopmental disorder.” Cayden’s intelligence quotient or IQ was only 50, way too low for his age.
The news about Cayden’s lifetime illness broke Jeff and Jenny’s heart. It was probably the worst news they had ever received as parents. Jeff was inconsolable. He struggled to understand why Cayden, of all children, would be struck by a dreadful impairment. Jenny did not take the news lightly either. She grieved the loss of Cayden’s normal life. From the moment the Long couple was informed of Cayden’s diagnosis, they knew his life is going to be difficult.
Conner, on the other hand, was still too young to understand his brother’s condition. As the two got older, Conner began to notice Cayden’s disorder. When he started asking his mother about Cayden, Jenny knew it was about time she breaks the sad news to his eldest. It was a gradual process for all of them. As the boys grew up, Jeff and Jenny did their best to provide both of their kids the best quality of life there is.
They regularly attended church, went out as a family, and did normal things their situation permitted. Jeff has a special way of bonding with his two boys. They go fishing together and even go skating. But as much as Conner wanted to spend more time outdoors with Cayden, the latter’s impairment kept him indoors most of the time. Jenny saw how much Conner longed to play ball games and do other active stuff with Cayden. She knew in her heart that if Conner had it his way, he would have loved to teach his younger brother football.
Conner is by nature an athletic boy. He is a member of their school’s football team. His father, Jeff, and brother, Cayden, would watch him practice whenever they could. Conner never tells anyone, but he felt guilty about leaving his brother in the sidelines. A part of him is not OK with Cayden being just an onlooker while he basks in applause and glory. Let’s just say that Conner is one sensitive boy for his age. Also very smart and caring, he wanted to do something about his brother’s condition. Deep inside, he knew that there must be a way to get them involved in something worthwhile.
In 2010, Jenny gave birth to another boy. They named him Cooper. Fortunately, Cooper was born physically and mentally fit.
Founding the Long Brothers Triathlon Team
Everything was going well with the Long family. Used to living a simple life, Jenny and Jeff could not ask for anything more—but not Conner. One fine day while Conner was playing alone on their porch, Jenny picked up the latest issue of Nashville Parent Magazine and began to read it. The seven–year–old’s attention was drawn to a picture in an article. He nonchalantly asked his mother what those kids in the picture were doing. Jenny told the boy that they were participating in the Nashville Kids Triathlon.
Conner was intrigued and asked her mother if she would allow him to compete—with Cayden. Not wanting to disappoint her son, Jenny promised that she would see if they could join as a team.
True to her words, Jenny got in touch with the Nashville Kids Triathlon’s facilitators to ask them about the mechanics of the game as she was new to triathlon herself.
Triathlon turns out to be a sport that’s not for the faint hearted. It requires training and good motor skills—both of which Jenny knew would be a colossal challenge for his second child. But then she realized that the boys are there to participate as a team, whether they would end up winning or not becomes insignificant just thinking of how liberating it would be for Cayden. After getting the organizers’ go signal, they approached Mandy Gildersleeve, a young triathlon coach from Florida. The brothers joined Nashville Kids Triathlon hardly having any training at all.
Team Long Brothers Joins Nashville Kids Triathlon
Mandy helped the Longs furnish Cayden the necessary equipment he would need to enable him to join the race. For the swimming part, they fashioned a raft tied to Conner. Mandy swam alongside the siblings to ensure their safety while on the water. Then came the cycling part where Mandy hitched Cayden to her bike while Conner pedaled on his own. All throughout the hilly race, Conner kept bugging Mandy to let Cayden ride with him. He did not stop until Mandy conceded and attached Cayden’s carriage to Conner’s bike. He was gone in no time with Cayden gleefully cheering him on. When it was time for the marathon, the older brother pushed the stroller where his younger brother was strapped and on they completed their first competition together.
The spectators held their breath as the special tandem reached the finished line after 43 minutes and 10 seconds of swimming, cycling, and running. They were among the last to complete the three-leg competition, but people cheered as if they were going for the win.
In a way, Conner and Cayden won. They won people’s admiration and respect. Since then, the duo was named Team Long Brothers.
Finishing last did not bother Conner at all. Seeing the beaming face of his brother is more than enough of a reward for him. Jenny did not quite understand how much competing alongside his brother meant to Conner. Thinking that his eldest son might also want to experience winning a race, she tried to encourage Conner to join another event without Cayden. Not even stopping to think about it, Conner told his mother that Cayden was the reason why he joined the competition in the first place. He’d rather not participate if Cayden chooses not to—which is highly unlikely considering how much he smiled during the entire event.
For the first time, Conner and Cayden completed something together. Jenny saw that the experience of competing in the Triathlon brought his two sons closer than ever. June 5, 2011, the day they completed their first race as Team Long Brothers, marked the beginning of their racing tandem. In two weeks’ time, the boys began “training” and upgrading their equipment in preparation for another race. Conner had to leave his school’s football team to focus on racing with his brother.
Team Long Brothers Off to IronKids Alpharetta Triathlon
Conner had his eyes on the IronKids Alpharetta Triathlon in Georgia. He told his mother about his yearning to compete once more. Indulging her son, Jenny promptly contacted Alpharetta Georgia organizers of IronKids to present the idea of having a special kid join the competition. The facilitators were not too eager to clear Conner and Cayden. After a thorough deliberation, they finally agreed to let Team Long Brothers participate in the 2011 IronKids Alpharetta Triathlon.
No longer naïve first timers, Conner and Cayden came prepared for the competition. Again, they were among the last to get to the finish line, but it did not matter to both Cayden and Conner who were thrilled out of their wits to be given the opportunity to compete against 1,400 kids. Even Jenny finds it hard to believe that Cayden, whom the doctors said will never engage in any normal endeavor, is competing with other kids far healthier than him.
In one of his interviews, Conner confessed to feeling agitated whenever he hears people use the r-word for his brother. The boy of nine adamantly speaks for Cayden who cannot articulate his feelings saying: "The one thing that makes me really mad, is when people walk down the room and say the “r-word”, if you know what that is. I just tell them that it doesn’t matter what he looks like on the outside it matters what’s on the inside and he still has regular feelings like we do, and he understands what you say about him. If people could race with people that can’t walk or talk or have any kind of autism, it might open eyes of people that don’t really care about it and maybe people that don’t care in the past will care in the future and actually do it with somebody."
The thing that keeps the young athlete going is seeing his brother happy and spreading awareness about the plight of kids with disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. He is indeed making monumental strides in his ministry. Through joining competitions, Team Long Brothers gave children with impairment new hope. They have mobilized a new movement in fighting for the rights of children who cannot normally function like other kids can. Team Long Brothers took the world by surprise with their perseverance and above all, their love for each other.
Team Long Brothers’ Video on ESPN (E:60’s Brotherly Love) Goes Viral
An inspirational story like Conner and Cayden's is pretty hard to miss. It wasn't surprising for publications to notice the amazing bond between the two brothers. ESPM ran a feature of Conner and Cayden as interviewed by Tom Rinaldi. The video was shown in E:60 titled “Brotherly Love.” It did not take long before the 10-minute story of Team Long Brothers inundated Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. The video was shared 250,000 times in Facebook alone. Team Long Brothers became 2011's most inspiring newsmakers.
Team Long Brothers Keeps Joining Triathlons
On 24 July 2012, the pair joined some 600 triathletes in the first New England Kids Triathlon. Brothers Conner and Cayden went to Massachusetts to swim, cycle, and run together. The Johnson Athletic Center at M.I.T. in Cambridge teemed with people who have heard of the legendary brothers. The two has now become famous. People recognized them and asked if they could have their picture taken with them. The kids good-naturedly obliged. Even Cayden can be charming if he chose to.
Conner is slowly getting used to being approached by strangers, congratulating and encouraging him. Some thank him for being an inspiration. Others call him their hero. For the young athlete, the popularity and fame that go along with their “success” make him more aware of what he can do for his brother and other kids who share the same condition. It also became Jeff and Jenny’s way of reaching out to other parents who, like them, have kids with special needs.
They knew that their question about why Cayden should suffer was finally answered. Cayden had to be born that way so they can help others in need of understanding and support. If they did not have Cayden, they will never understand what it is like to raise a kid with basically no future at all. Society needs more education on how kids with deformity, impairment, and disability should be treated in a way that will make their lives more fulfilled and their environment less harsh.
In May 2012, the Long family finally met Team Hoyt at the Holland Elementary 5K marathon. Rick has spastic quadriplegia with cerebral palsy and joins triathlons with his father Dick who pushes and carries him to the finish line. Jenny was thrilled to hear their story and they were all inspired by Dick’s devotion to his son. They finished the race with renewed determination to keep going.
Team Long Brothers, First Triathlon Duo to Win SportsKid of the Year
Before 2012 ended, Team Long Brothers were among the finalists in the search for the 2012 SportsKid of the Year, an award given annually to a promising young athlete aged seven to 15 years old. In one of their TV appearances, Sports Illustrated surprised the siblings with the news of their being named SportsKids of the Year. It made history since Sports Illustrated Kids has always given the award to a single person since it was started in 2007. Team Long Brothers was the first to win the prize for two distinct individuals.
Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated Kids, Bob Der, has this to say about the unprecedented naming of two SportsKids of the Year in 2012:
“Each kid has an individual story that on its own maximizes the most out of what sports should be.”
If Conner inspires people to love their siblings unconditionally, Cayden personifies the pure innocence of a special kid who is very much alike other children in many ways. Team Long Brothers did something they were told their circumstances won’t permit them to do. They did not let the world define normal for them. Instead, they carried on and built a new world around an ailing family member. A world filled with love and acceptance. A world alien to most kids with cerebral palsy.
The family wants to give back by putting up a non-governmental organization “for children with disabilities to participate in triathlons and marathons,” says their head of the family, Jeff Long. They want to raise funds to make joining competitions easier for kids who are differently-abled. Now that they have managed to break the barrier, they are looking for ways to widen the narrow path of children with special needs.
Triathlon is not the only thing that keeps Cayden busy. He goes to school and learns how to play modified T-ball and how to ride a horse.
After joining 14 competitions as Team Long Brothers, Conner knew that it is what he wants to do in the future. Does he think of Cayden as a burden? “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother,” is his matter–of–fact reply.
- Ainsley's Angels of America
- Team Maddy
- Team Hoyt
- IronKids Triathlon
- Nashville Kids Triathlon
- Bandz Inc.
- The Muscular Dystrophy Association
- MDA Muscle Walk
- 2011: Joined Nashville Kids Triathlon - their first triathlon competition as a team
- 2011: Joined IronKids Alpharetta Triathlon
- 2012: Participated in the Holland Elementary 5K where they met Team Hoyt
- 2012: Awarded SportsKids of the Year by Sports Illustrated Kids
- *Joined 14 triathlon events