ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A Michigan teenager who wanted to raise awareness about cerebral palsy by walking 40 miles with his younger brother strapped to his back battled heat, rain, fatigue and more to finish the trek Sunday.
Hunter Gandee, 14, had been planning for weeks to pull off the walk, hoping to put a face on the muscular disorder that prevents his 7-year-old sibling, Braden, from being able to walk without help. But all his organizing couldn't prepare him for the conditions he faced as he packed the 50-pound boy over two days.
He even thought about giving up along the way.
"Honestly, yes, there was a point that we did consider stopping," Hunter said. "Braden's legs — the chafing was getting pretty bad. We did have to consider stopping. It was at about the 30-mile point."
A phone call changed all that.
Hunter reached out to a friend, who said a prayer for the brothers. That, combined with some rest and a change in how Braden was positioned on his brother's back, helped the boys make it the final 10 miles.
It may have taken a bit longer than they anticipated, but the Gandees and more than a dozen of their family members and friends strolled up a winding road Sunday toward the University of Michigan's wrestling center.
At the top of the hill, Hunter lifted up Braden so he could touch a "Go Blue" banner erected for them near the walk's endpoint. The move was met with thunderous applause and cheers from those who had gathered to see the boys finish the trek.
Asked how he felt, Braden replied simply: "Tired."
Hunter said he was "more tired than I think I've ever been. My legs are pretty sore. But we pushed through it. And we're here."
More than 30 hours earlier, Hunter, with Braden securely strapped to his back, left the parking lot of Bedford Junior High in Temperance near the Ohio border. Just before their Saturday morning departure, well-wishers packed the gym for a send-off and the school band performed.
The boys' parents and two other siblings accompanied them on the walk. A caravan of cars and other walkers also joined in.
The goal of the walk, called the Cerebral Palsy Swagger, was to raise awareness about cerebral palsy and hopefully inspire new ideas for mobility aides and medical procedures.
Braden typically uses a walker, braces or a power chair to get around.
Hunter, a 155-pound wrestler, said he trained for the trek by lifting weights and staying active. And by checking the weather forecast.
Saturday was warm and sunny, but Sunday was cool and rainy. The boys were prepared, though, and packed a variety of outerwear.
By the time Sunday afternoon arrived, the rain had subsided and they completed their triumphant march into Ann Arbor under sunny skies.
For Hunter, the walk was about doing something for his brother.
"I can't even describe to you how special (Braden) is to me. I can't put it into words," the teen said. "He's awesome. He's always there for me. I really just wanted to give back to him in some way."