This is a story of brotherly love and inclusion.
More than three-fourth million Americans suffer from Cerebral Palsy. Still not much is known about this condition. It is in order to spread more awareness about this unique condition that Hunter Gandee, 16, from Michigan goes on a walk every year carrying his 9-year old brother who has cerebral palsy on his back. Braden Gandee has the condition since birth and cannot walk without assistance. What made the walk completed in April of this year more challenging than most is that Hunter and Braden trekked 111-miles.
Brotherly Love: The Walk for Cerebral Palsy
Hunter Gandee carried his 70 pound brother from Temperance, Michigan, to the state Capitol in Lansing while taking stops at only the some schools along the route. Hunter has also made it clear that this was his last walk, as he will start his senior year at high school soon. He studies at the Bedford High School, Temperance. At the same time, his brother is no longer the light kid that he used to be. According to Braden, he will be completing the final 1/2 mile of the walk in Lansing with the help of a walker.
The brothers have become quite famous in the area. They have named their famous walk as the “Cerebral Palsy Swagger.” According to them, their walk is a challenge for people from all across the world to play their part in moving towards inclusion. All the support from everyone has been one of the main inspirations for Hunter and Braden.
Cerebral Palsy Swagger: History & Popularity
Hunter and Braden started their “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” back in 2014. During their first walk, they covered a distance of 40 miles. Hunter was 14 and Braden was just 7 years old. The next year, they covered a decent distance of 57 miles.
The brothers have also had their tryst with fame. In 2014, Hunter held his younger brother in his arms on the mound at Comerica Park when Braden tossed the first pitch in the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Colorado Rockies. Then in 2015, they raised money to develop a playground at Braden’s school.
What is Cerebral Palsy & How Common Is It?
Cerebral palsy is the most commonly found childhood disabilities. It is found in almost 3 in 1000 births in America. Around 764,000 people including kids and adults currently suffer from this condition. Around half a million kids (under 18 years) currently suffer from cerebral palsy. In some states the rates of cerebral palsy have been found to be 2.3 per 1,000 kids while in others it’s as high as 3.6 per 1,000.
According to an estimate, almost 10,000 babies born annually develop this condition even though they may not show signs at birth. Every year, up to 10,000 babies and infants get diagnosed with this condition. At the same time, as many as 1,500 preschool-age kids get diagnosed annually with this condition.
Signs & Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
If someone has cerebral palsy, they will start showing symptoms within the first 3 years of life. If a baby or child has this condition, they can show any of these signs and symptoms:
- Crawling in an unusual way.
- Slow in achieving developmental milestones like crawling, speaking or walking. They are much slower than other kids of same age.
- There is abnormal muscle tone. The child may slouch when sitting. The muscles show overdevelopment or underdevelopment or there are stiff/floppy movements.
- The child may show signs of difficulty with sucking and feeding.
- The child gets easily startled.
- The child lies down in strange positions.
- The child favors using only one side of his/her body.
- There are signs of ataxia – poor balance and coordination.
- The child shows signs of athetosis – slow, involuntary writing movements.
Discrimination Against People with Cerebral Palsy
One of the primary causes behind Hunter and Braden’s annual “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” is the wide range of discrimination faced everywhere by people with this condition. Statistics show that students having such disability are up to 3 times more likely to get bullied. Kids bully an individual with a physical disability even before they know about them just because they have problems.
However, it is not just schools where people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities are discriminated against. The unemployment rate of Americans having disabilities is almost double the rate of Americans without disabilities. This is despite the fact that most of these people are capable of working.
The Gandee Brothers’ Message
Although discrimination against people having disabilities is a major concern in society, the Gandee brothers’ message of moving towards “inclusion” has a big impact. Most people look at people with cerebral palsy and think that they are different. They think they are ‘stupid’ just because they have speech problems. The fact is that the issues with motor skills cause problems with moving their mouth. They are not slow in any way in their mental capacity.
When people with cerebral palsy are included in all spheres in life, everyone will know more about them and realize that they too are bright like normal people. As more people learn about them, discrimination against those with disabilities will lessen, and hopefully, come to an end.
The Awareness Created by Gandee Brothers
The fact that this was the Gandee brothers’ last walk for cerebral palsy awareness is sad. However, it is hoped that more children and adults will be inspired by this story to do something similarly inspirational. Despite the widespread discrimination against people with this condition, the duo and the support poured on them from all corners has proven that not everyone is blind. There are many people who understand cerebral palsy and the need for including kid, teens and adults with this condition in all aspects of life.
The brothers have a “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” Facebook page too, which has over 15,000 fans. The brothers’ message is getting out there. Hunter was named High School Athlete of the Year by Sports Illustrated. And, coverage of his walk was extensive.
If there’s a movie made of this brotherly love pair’s inspirational sports story, the theme song selection seems obvious: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”