In 2012, Jenny Long’s two sons, Conner 9 at the time, and Cayden, 7, who has spastic cerebral palsy, were named Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKids of the Year after completing 14 triathlons. Their story inspired children and athletes across the country, but their family story began long before crossing the finish line.
At 12-years-old, Jenny lost her mother to cancer. Still in mourning she was sent to live with her estranged father. Jenny quickly became a rebellious teen, dropped out of high school and fell in love with a felon. When Jenny finds out she’s pregnant, she promises to make a better life for her and her child, Conner.
A couple of years later and after leaving her abusive first husband, Jenny has another boy, Cayden. Jenny dreamed of her boys sharing hobbies and playing sports together, but those dreams were shattered when she found out that Cayden had cerebral palsy. But Cayden’s disability did not deter Conner from finding a way to bond and play with his brother, and through the Long Brothers’ very first triathlon, Conner and Cayden fulfilled their mother’s dream while also providing inspiration for those with disabilities, their caretakers, and anyone looking for a miracle.
Jenny’s story is one of inspiration and embodies the element of redemption in hope.
What was the breaking point that influenced you to get your life in order and take control?
“My breaking point to get my life back in order was after my first husband, Conner's biological father, started to become physically abusive. That is when I decided I did not want my son to be subjected to witnessing or possibly being mistreated. That was the point when I decided to leave his father, a pivotal breaking point in our lives.”
As a parent of children who possess so much strength and courage, do you feel challenged to help them cultivate their gift? And how do you guide someone who has such a big heart and sense of life at such a young age?
“I feel as a parent it's my duty to help them continue and support their interests, hobbies, passions etc. I just help them navigate through their races and help make sure they always express their emotions, whether they are feelings of sadness, hurt, happiness, or excitement. I always want them to be true to themselves.”
Was there a particular event that inspired you to write a book about your life and the journey that you’re taking with your children?
“I don't recall any one particular moment that made me want to write a book about my life and the boys, but I have always joked to my friends and family that I should write a book, never knowing it would actually happen. I have always been honest about things in life because honesty will set you free, and hey, maybe I can help others going through similar challenges in their own lives. “
What advice can you offer to other mothers and/or fathers who have faced difficult times or who are challenged with the conditions that their children are diagnosed with?
“I would advise them to be proud of their past, learn from it. Don't be ashamed for it makes you a stronger person. Share your testimony. Everyone has one and it could help someone else going through a hard time. To parents with a child with special needs: please get involved with your local and online communities and organizations. It was the best place I found support. You will meet so many amazing and strong parents you will learn from.”
Where did the idea of Lebron James writing the forward originate?
“The idea of Lebron James writing the forward come from our relationship with him when he opened his heart to the boys and I at the Sports Illustrated Man of the Year Awards in 2012. He invited us to one of the games and made a memory for the boys and I that we will never forget! He and his foundation have supported the boys and even came out to cheer them on while they raced. My co-author and I couldn't have thought more of a better inspirational individual and athlete to do the job.”
Lebron James says it best, “The Long family have left a lasting impression on me, and their story continues to be an inspiration for me in everything I do. They show us all what it means to persevere in the face of adversity.” Conner and Cayden exemplify what it means to forge through life with a courageous will to live.