May 21, 2014 at 6:02 PM ET
A Michigan teen is on a crusade to raise awareness about cerebral palsy by carrying his 7-year-old brother, who has the disorder, for 40 miles.
Hunter Gandee, 14, has been hoisting little Braden onto his back for as long as he can remember, carrying him to beaches, up and down mountains, and often just through their local grocery store.
A driven kid who is at the top of his eighth-grade class and captain of his wrestling team, Hunter says he’s nervous about taking this longer trek with Braden. And yet, watching Braden struggle valiantly to negotiate everyday tasks is Hunter’s inspiration.
“Every day of his life so far has been harder than any single day of mine,” Hunter told TODAY.com. “He fights through it. He’s a trouper.”
And Braden is just as big a fan of his older brother. He roots for Hunter at wrestling matches and hopes to wrestle someday soon himself.
“He’s very special to me,” Braden said of Hunter. “He always helps me out. He’s always there for me.”
Cerebral palsy includes several neurological disorders appearing in infancy or early childhood that permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination, according to the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Braden’s cerebral palsy makes it a struggle for him to walk and sometimes, to speak, the first-grader said. He uses a walker, and it doesn’t always work well on the mulch in his school playground or at the beach.
While Hunter lifts weights and his brother as much as possible to prepare for their long walk, Braden said he’s also training, trying to loosen up as much as he can.
“I’m very excited,” Braden said. “I think we can actually do it.”
Their parents, Danielle and Sam Grandee, will drive ahead of them, and a slew of volunteers are expected to accompany the boys on their journey.
They’ll stop overnight in the town of Milan and plan to arrive at about 2 p.m. on June 8 at the Bahna Wrestling Center at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
In March, Hunter raised $350 for the Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium of Michigan, selling green cerebral palsy awareness wristbands for a dollar each at school.
During this walk, the boys want to raise awareness rather than donations.
“We’re trying to get people to want to know more about cerebral palsy,” Hunter said. “They don’t understand the work he has to go through, for all the simple things in life that you and I just kind of do.”
“I just want them to know I’m just like everybody else," Braden said. "I just have difficulty walking.”
Both boys hope one day to study biomedical engineering so they can design mobility equipment. Their mom, Danielle Gandee, said she’s confident they’ll succeed in whatever they attempt. Just like his older brother, Braden is an A student with lots of friends.
“We expect the same out of Braden as we do of everyone else,” his mother said.
The whole family, including the boys’ sister Kerragan, 13, and brother Kellen, 6, has been amazed by the attention the walk has garnered so far. Hundreds of people are expected to walk alongside the brothers, their mother said.
“We are extremely touched that so many people want to hear our story,” Danielle Gandee said. “We’re just overwhelmed by the support.”
Like her sons, she believes there’s an urgent need for either more handicapped accessibility or better equipment for people with impaired mobility.
“Let Braden do the things he can do,” the mom said. “It shouldn’t be equipment that holds him back.”