TEMPERANCE, Mich. – A 14-year-old Michigan boy set out on a 40-mile trek on Saturday with his 7-year-old brother strapped to his back, hoping to raise awareness about the muscular condition that prevents the younger boy from being able to walk without help.
Hunter Gandee, with 50-pound Braden securely strapped to his back, left shortly after 8 a.m. from the parking lot of Bedford Junior High School in Temperance, which is near the Ohio border. They hoped to arrive Sunday at their destination, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Surrounding the Gandees were dozens of family, friends and community members, many of whom released balloons into the sky as the walk commenced.
Called the Cerebral Palsy Swagger, the trek's goal is to raise awareness for the muscle disorder that afflicts Braden and to grab the attention of the next generation of leaders, doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs and show them the face of cerebral palsy and the need for new ideas in mobility aides and medical procedures.
The walk has already gained quite a bit of attention.
"We've gotten contacted by the lead singer of Megadeth, and he's supporting us and donating. We've gotten contacted by the Detroit Tigers, and they're on board and supporting us. Whole bunches of different people," Hunter said.
Even students from a rival middle school, Jefferson, raised $700.
The family is not asking for donations, but for those interested, they are being directed to the University of Michigan Cerebral Palsy Research Program. Hunter raised $350 for the program through the sale of green wristbands at his school in March.
Braden typically uses a walker, braces or a power chair to get around. On Saturday morning, the 50-pound boy was all smiles from his position perched on his big brother's back.
"Thank you guys for coming out. Thank you for your support. It means so much to us," Braden said from the stage during a pre-walk pep rally in the school gym.
Hunter, a 155-pound wrestler, said he trained by lifting weights and staying active. He predicted that the love and support he received at the rally and in the days and weeks preceding it will "push us through."
Braden, meanwhile, said he has faith that Hunter can get them to Ann Arbor.
"My brother is awesome," he said.