By SYDNEY LUPKIN
The Long family used to drive almost an hour to get to a playground that both Connor and Cayden could play on together, but now they don’t have to.
Cayden, 9, has cerebral palsy, which renders him unable to walk or talk, his mother, Jenny Long, said. His big brother, Connor, 10, doesn’t have cerebral palsy, and he has been towing Cayden along on triathlons since 2011. But when they're not competing, the brothers love to play on a playground they can both enjoy.
“To go to a playground and swing –- do what other kids do –- we’d have to drive all the way to Nashville,” Jenny Long said. “Cayden requires accessibility. That doesn’t mean a little part, going up and down a sidewalk. That actually to me means being able to freely maneuver around the playground.”
After earning recognition for their triathlons as Sports Illustrated for Kids’ “Sports Kids of the Year” in 2012, a playground maker called Miracle Recreation included Connor on a panel about how he would design his ideal playground, his mother said. Through those talks, he mentioned how hard it is to find a playground that he and Cayden could play on together.
Then Miracle Recreation offered to build and fund a playground near their home in White House, Tenn.
During the design process, Connor became Cayden’s voice, offering suggestions for what he thought Cayden would want to play on. He also named the playground “Roll Around the Park.”
Since it opened earlier this month, Jenny Long said she can tell when Cayden wants to play there. He signs “bye-bye” to her to signal that he wants to play outside. Once they get to the park, he starts laughing and waving his arms and legs.
“He lets everybody know he’s excited,” Jenny Long said. “Then he gets mad if we have to leave. He starts to lock up his breaks.”
She said Cayden's favorite part of the park is the ramp, but he also loves the swing. It’s not just a swing for children in wheelchairs, but both of his brothers can play on it, too.
“It’s all about inclusion. It’s all about creating a playground for everyone,” she said. “We don’t want to label it as a special-needs park or a special-needs swing. It’s a park where anyone can come and play.”