At the 51st Annual Junior Olympic Games, more 15,000 athletes came to the Detroit Metropolitan Area to compete.
One of these athletes, wrestler Hunter Gandee, carries an extra weight on his shoulders that others do not. Hunter is a rising senior at Bedford High School in Temperance, MI where he is on the varsity wrestling team.
Gandee’s younger brother, Braden, suffers from Cerebral Palsy, a disorder that affects his muscle function, making him unable to walk unassisted.
"Growing up with him, I've seen some of the things he's had to go through, some of the things he's had difficulty with, walking being a huge one," Hunter said. He continued, "I wanted to find a way to be able to tell people about Cerebral Palsy and raise awareness for his condition."
This is where the idea for Hunter and his family’s idea of "The Cerebral Palsy Swagger" was born.
In June of 2014, Hunter carried his brother on his back, piggyback style, 40 miles from his junior high school to the University of Michigan wrestling center.
The next year he carried him again, this time 57 miles, from Braden's elementary school to the University of Michigan Pediatric Rehabilitation Center.
Then in April of 2016, Hunter carried Braden 111 miles over six days from his high school in Promenence to the State Capitol in Lansing. At certain points there were around 200 people walking with them.
Through their efforts and walks, they raised over $200,000 for a handicap accessible playground in their community and gained national media attention. Hunter and his family were recognized during a University of Michigan football game and threw out the first pitch of a Detroit Tigers game. Hunter was also named Sports Illustrated High School Athlete of the Year in 2015.
“Everything they do they do as a team,” said Hunter and Braden’s mom, Danielle, about her family.
Hunter was excited to have his family cheering him on and supporting him at the 2017 AAU Junior Olympic Games. “It’s always nice to you know have family and friends there cheering you on when you’re doing something that’s important to you,” said Hunter. He continued about the Games, “It was a great experience, especially facing kids from across the country with different styles that I don’t see from kids here in Michigan.”
He hopes his story inspires others to go out and try to make a difference in the world.
“If there’s one thing I want to tell people it’s that if they set their minds to something and you want to make a difference in the world, then anyone can,” said Hunter. “Anyone has the power, because I was 14 when I started this project with me and my 7 year old brother and we were able to make a huge impact on people’s lives. When you have an idea, go after it and try to make that difference.”
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