29 January 2013

Why Conner Long is my hero

by Fiona Sherwin

Conner Long is nine years old, his brother Cayden is six. Conner is my hero.

I came across their story on Facebook. Cayden has hypertonic cerebral palsy and is very dependent on others for his care. He cannot play like his brother Conner because he can’t walk or run or participate in team sports by himself. The idea that his little brother could only stay on the sidelines and watch him play made Conner uneasy; he yearned to be able to ride his bike with Cayden like regular brothers and so he decided to do something about it.

Team Long Brothers is Conner’s creation. In 2011, Conner, who was eight at the time, had noticed that there was a kid’s triathlon scheduled near his home and he began to dream. What would it take for his brother to be included? They took the necessary steps and, with his Mum’s help, he and his brother were entered into the race. With a Coach accompanying them for safety, they began the race. As Cayden couldn’t do it by himself, Conner swam the 100 yard distance (91m), towing Cayden in a raft. For this first race, when it came to the bike leg, they hitched Cayden’s special trailer to the Coach’s bike and rode a 3 mile (4.8 km) hilly course, while Conner rode beside. Finally, Conner pushed Cayden’s stroller a half mile (800 m) for the run. Together they finished the race. Since then, with improved equipment, they have competed fourteen races. For the boys, it doesn’t matter if they come first, second, third, or last – what matters is that they finish together.

Because of their achievements, the Long brothers were awarded the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sports Kids of the year. In looking into their story further, this is a family who has a professed Christian faith, and as such see what the boys are doing as a ministry to bring awareness of inclusivity and participation to others. There is no selfishness or pretence for fame; it is simply one brother wanting his sibling to be visible and enjoying life like any other kid.

I can’t help but think how often we see someone standing (or sitting) on the sidelines, yearning to participate, but it is easier for us to continue doing what we want and pay them no attention, mostly because of the effort needed. Conner is my hero because he is determined to break through barriers, and ensure participation. He and Cayden are two brothers who share a love for each other, for racing and for showing the world a little bit of what inclusion is all about. I like that.

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