Hunter Gandee, 14, big man on campus and big brother to Braden, 7, will piggyback his brother for 40 miles to raise awareness about cerebral palsy.
Hunter, the president of his junior high’s student council and captain of his school’s wrestling team wants to raise awareness of the challenges his little brother faces in everyday life.
Braden was born with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that causes physical disability.
Hunter has been carrying Braden around on his back since the two were young. It’s Braden’s favorite form of transportation. “It’s how he gets around,” mom Danielle told ABC News. But this 40 mile hike won’t be like a trip to the grocery store.
Hunter will carry nearly 60 pound Braden from the Bedford Junior High wrestling room to the University of Michigan Wrestling room. The duo will leave 8 a.m. June 7, walk for about 25 miles, stay overnight in Milan and finish the last 15 miles the next day.
Community members, wrestlers from all over, and veterans of the Disabled Veterans of America are expected to join the cause. Hunter wanted to make clear that this walk was strictly to raise awareness. Those who have wanted to donate have been pointed to the University of Michigan’s Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium.
Hunter told ABC News he is “very protective” of his little brother. “If he has any problems, I’m right there by his side,” Hunter said.
Braden told ABC News he was “very, very excited” for the walk.
Through “Cerebral Palsy Swagger,” the Gandee family hopes research and technology will follow so new equipment to aid Braden and others with cerebral palsy will help them rather than hold them back. “You can’t go on the baseball field with a walker,” Danielle Gandee said.
Mrs. Gandee and her husband hold their children to the same standard, modifying expectations when necessary, but “we’re pretty strict,” the mom said. “They are expected to do well in school, get good grades.”
“We don’t treat him any different. We push him like we push our other kids,” Danielle Gandee said. “Only motor challenges hold him back. We don’t let cerebral palsy be an excuse.”
The mom attributes Braden’s happy life, despite his physical struggle, to the strong community they are surrounded with and the closeness of their family.
“He’s kind of like everybody’s little brother,” she said. “Everyone looks out for him and plays with him, I don’t think we’ve ever had a situation where a kid has been mean to him.”
Braden is also Hunter’s number one cheerleader and Hunter’s greatest inspiration. Braden is always front row and center at his big brother’s wrestling matches.
“It gives me that extra boost, whenever I’m in the middle of a match, it just makes me want to try harder to pull out the win. It’s a confidence thing for me,” Hunter said.
“Whenever there is a real emotional, close match, Hunter jumps up, slaps the mat, and says ‘I did that for you buddy!’” Mrs. Gandee said.
“Their connection, they really are that close,” Danielle Gandee explained, “It’s not an act. Hunter knows that Braden’s got to work very hard, he’s the kind of person that is always thinking about other people.”
There have been quite a few kids with cerebral palsy that have or currently are wrestling. Braden hopes to wrestle in junior high.