Team Long Brothers

by Jamie Gallagher

There’s no crying in baseball, but what about basketball? LeBron James would argue that his tears were spent on a worthy cause, and I think everyone would agree. At the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Awards banquet, James was almost in tears when he heard the story of Conner and Cayden Long, the 2012 SportsKids of the Year. Conner, 9, and Cayden, 7, compete in triathlons. Cayden has cerebral palsy.

In the Spring of 2011, Conner saw an ad for the Nashville Kids Triathlon in a magazine that his mom was reading. Conner asked his mom if he and Cayden could try it, and, although hesitant, she said yes, and Team Long Brothers was formed. The family reached out to race organizers for permission and a youth triathlon coach, Mandy Gildersleeve, for help with training and equipment. When June came, the boys were ready for the race! For the 100 yard swim, Conner pulled Cayden, who rode in a raft. For the 3 mile bike ride, Cayden rode in a trailer attached to Conner’s bike. For the 0.5 mile run, Conner pushed Cayden in a stroller. The boys finished 31st out of 32 competitors, with a time of 43 minutes and 10 seconds. The place and time didn’t matter; all that mattered was that they finished, and they did it together.When Cayden was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at four months old, the doctors encouraged the family to put him in a home, saying that raising him would be a burden. Jeff and Jenny Long refused, and still hoped that their two boys could be best friends. This came as a small challenge as Conner couldn’t fully grasp why Cayden was different and why they couldn’t bond as well as other brothers. One day that all changed.

Since that race, Conner and Cayden continued training and have competed in 14 races, including more triathlons and a few fun runs. They ran into a challenge when Conner and Cayden wanted to compete in an IronKids competition. When they contacted race organizers for permission, they weren’t going to let them compete because they were concerned that there wouldn’t be room for Cayden’s equipment, with 1,400 kids competing. When his dad asked if he would compete in the race alone, Conner said no. He didn’t want to leave Cayden on the sidelines; the reason why he likes doing the races is because he can do them with Cayden. No Cayden, no race. Eventually, the organizers agreed to let Team Long Brothers compete. On September 11, 2011, in Alpharetta, Georgia, Conner and Cayden competed in the IronKids Triathlon. They came in last place, but again, it didn’t matter. They finished, and they had fun!

Flash-forward to the 2012 Sportsman of the Year awards, the Long Family is taking the stage, with Conner and Cayden accepting the awards for SportsKids of the Year. They are getting a standing ovation from Beyonce, JayZ, Mary J Blige, and other celebrities and sports figures alike. In his speech, Conner tearfully says, “We can always do anything.” Later, LeBron James gets on stage and gives his title of SportsMan of the Year to Conner and Cayden because what they do is “unbelievable.”

Team Long Brothers is an inspirational story that warms the hearts of sports fans and non sports fans alike. The compassion and maturity that a nine year old boy shows to the world, and specifically his younger brother, is unmatched. Although this is an old story, it is one worth telling and retelling to teach the world about acceptance, inclusion, and how sports can bring us all together.

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