To spread awareness about cerebral palsy, a Michigan teenager trekked more than 100 miles last month with his 9-year-old brother on his back; a brother who’s lived with cerebral palsy for most of his life and has difficulties walking on his own.
TODAY reports that Hunter Gandee, 16, a Bedford High School student from Temperance, Michigan, participated in the “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” walk on April 25. The event, which began at Hunter’s school, ending 111 miles at the state capitol in Lansing. Hunter carried his little brother Braden on his back the entire trip, and although it was exhausting, the dedicated teen said he’s glad he was able to complete the task.
It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done or will ever have to do in my life. But it was crazy and fun and I had my four best friends by my side the entire time, which helped ease the pain.”
Hunter began training for the walk in December. He recruited a personal trainer and practiced by carrying a heavy backpack at school. This wasn’t his first time to walk with his brother on his back. In 2014, the teen walked in another awareness marathon for cerebral palsy, but the event was only 41 miles. That may seem like a lot of walking, but it was nothing compared to the 111 mile trek. Yet, with the proper physical training and approval by their doctors, the boys completed the walk, and Braden walk a half a mile on his own.
The boys took breaks every three or four miles, and jumped into an RV that followed them along their walk. The RV then took them to a hotel to sleep for the night, but they up early the next morning to continue on. Along with the family RV accompanying them every step of the way, numerous other people joined in on the walk. Many would sing and chant in encouragement. According to Hunter,
At certain points, there were 200 people with us. We tried to have fun and take our mind off walking. It was always nice to see Braden get really excited when one of his friends would show up too.”
One of Hunter’s hopes is that that the walk helped spread awareness about cerebral palsy to people his own age. In fact, they walked by every high school in the area on their way to the state capital. Students at most of the high schools stepped outside to cheer the brothers on and offer support.
Metro reports that the entire walk was documented, including the look on Braden’s face when they finally reached Lansing’s Capitol building. As they approached the finish line, Hunter helped his younger brother and held onto him as Brayden walked with determination, using a gait trainer. The crowd began chanting, “Let’s go Brayden,” while drums beat loudly as the young boy made it to the end, with Hunter by his side. Brayden fondly remembers how he felt to have so many people encouraging him.
“It meant so much that so many people supported me and came to walk with us. They also made getting through that last half mile much easier.”
Sadly, this will be Hunter’s last walk for cerebral palsy. Next year, he’s off to college, and he said his brother is “getting bigger.” However, he’s proud of his achievements and hopes to be there for this brother no matter what stage of his life he’s in.
I sometimes think we’re extra close because as his older brother, I want to be there for him when he needs me and he needs me a little extra, so I’m happy to do it.”