The Cerebral Palsy Swagger

By: Hunter Gandee

Human Rights , Athlete

I was six years old when my brother, Braden, was born premature. One year later, we would learn that he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP).

CP is a neurological condition that typically appears in infancy and permanently affects body movement, muscle coordination and speech abilities. But having physical challenges doesn’t automatically mean people with CP will have mental challenges as well. In fact, less than half of kids with CP have a mental impairment. 

It's estimated that around 10,000 babies develop CP every year. Statistically, that means 2 or 3 kids out of every 1,000 have CP in the United States.

Given these numbers, I think it’s important to educate the general population about this neurological condition and to ensure that every community promotes “inclusion.”

No one likes to be left out. The term “inclusion” invites all people — whether they have special needs or not — to participate equally in public and community settings so that they have access to the same social and educational opportunities. 

Having a disability often means you're not included or can not fully participate alongside everyone else. In the United States, nearly 1-in-5 have a disability. Around the world, there are more than 1-billion people with a disability.

Building a culture of acceptance and understanding happens when everyday people are given the opportunity to interact with someone who is different than they are. Having a brother with Cerebral Palsy (CP) put me on a personal mission to help weave diversity and inclusion into the fabric of my community, and ultimately society itself.

It all started at a student counsil meeting when I suggested that we do something for CP awareness which happens in March. When I saw how open my classmates were to the concept, I asked my family to pray on what we could do to have a huge impact. 

The idea of producing a walk actually came to my mother in a dream. She visioned me carrying Braden a great distance. So we thought about that, and decided it would be a compelling way to raise awareness.  

We decided to name our walk "The Cerebral Palsy Swagger." The first one took place in 2014 as a 40-mile walk from my junior high school to the University of Michigan. It was purposed to get the attention of leaders, influencers, innovators and entrepreneurs so that we could spark more conversations about CP.  The second walk in 2015, was 57-miles from Braden's school to the University of Michigan's Pediatric Rehabilitation Center. This walk was purposed to show the different struggles that CP patients have. The last and final walk, in 2016, was 111-miles from my high school to the State Capital building in Lansing. This walk was purposed to help the public understand the necessary steps towards inclusion.

The culmination of these efforts not only resulted with an abundance of media coverage, both locally and internationally, but it also meant that my community came together and built an inclusive playground at Douglas Road Elementary school where Braden goes to school.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of my two other siblings, Kerragan and Kellen, alongside our parents. 

  • Hi my name is Hunter Gandee. I am an athlete, a believer, a change-maker and a role-model for my little brother, Braden. Together we launched "CP Swagger" a movement to raise awareness about Cerebral Palsy and the need for inclusion. Please read our story and "help" us by promoting inclusion in your own communities! The world is stronger when all of us have an equal opportunity to share our genius with the world.


Why we took it "one step at a time"

Anyone can START a change or start a difference. MAKING a change requires the support of a lot of people. One of the reasons that all of our walks involved schools and universities was to give us the chance to share our story with entire student bodies.

Walk #1 (Braden = 50 lbs): The first walk was meant to be a community project. It was a 40 mile walk from my junior high school to the University of Michigan. It grew because of the support from my own community which rippled off and happened overnight.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT: We sent out tons of emails and press releases to different newspapers and radio stations so that we could get the attention. The Detroit Free Press picked up our story and then overnight the Associated Press covered it and the next morning it was all over the country. Having the basic information about the "when" and the "where" is important, but what trumps everything is the "why." I think the "why" has to be from the heart and be bigger than "you" -- it has to be meaningful to the world itself.

OUR MIRACLE: We didn't anticipate that Braden would be chaffed so badly from the swagger of our walk. We had just 3.5 hours left to walk, but Braden was bleeding and crying. I wasn't sure we were going to make it. It was 55-degrees outside, cold an rainy. I called a friend and asked if he would pray for us over the phone. Then I got a call from Braden's therapist who had the idea of changing Braden's sling in such a way that it wouldn't continue to rub across his wound. By the time we were ready to get started again, it was 70-degrees and sunny.

Walk #2 (Braden = 60 lbs): Our second walk encompassed 57 miles going from my Brother’s school to the University of Michigan’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Center.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT: We knew we wanted this event to be bigger, and the only way we thought we could generate the same amount of excitement and interest was to make the walk more challenging, which is why we made it longer. We also knew it was important to get a big send-off, so we involved Braden's school and had 550 of his classmates there when we started our walk!

OUR MIRACLE: Our goal of this walk was to help the world see the need for better treatment options, smarter equipment and more aggressive progress towards creating a truly accessible world for people with disabilities. Keeping our faith that God would be with us made it all possible!

Walk #3 (Braden = 70 lbs):  111 miles from my high school to the State Capital building in Lansing. This took 6 days to complete. Our angle and direct goals changed during the walk. The first project was to get the attention of the leaders, influencers, innovators and entrepreneurs what Cerebral Palsy is and get the attention. The second was to show the different struggles that a patient has. The third walk was to challenge the world to take the necessary steps towards inclusion.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT: Sponsors covered the costs of the hotels so that we could sleep well at night.  As you might expect, finding a sponsor is about exercising your network and connections and constantly putting yourself out there. Our biggest sponsor is Farm Bureau Insurance, and they contacted me after hearing me speak.

OUR MIRACLEThe culmination of all three walks helped us raise $185,000 dollars in conjunction with the PTA of Braden's school, to build an inclusive playground for all kids. 

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