The heat was stifling, the rain was frustrating and 14-year-old Hunter Gandee was more tired than he'd ever been in his life. But, with love guiding the way, the teenager finished the grueling 40-mile trek that he had set out to complete this weekend -- all while carrying his 7-year-old brother, Braden, on his back.
Braden has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination, and he cannot walk without help. Wanting to raise awareness about Braden's condition, Hunter decided to walk for miles while piggybacking his brother, thereby demonstrating "the physical and mental challenges faced everyday by those affected by cerebral palsy."
On Saturday, Hunter, with Braden strapped to his back, started his long journey from the wrestling room at Bedford Junior High in Temperance, Mich., where he's a student and captain of the wrestling team. His goal was to reach the University of Michigan's Bahna Wrestling Center in Ann Arbor by Sunday afternoon -- an arduous, almost 40-mile trek.
“We are walking 40 miles and I am carrying 50 pounds, it’s going to be difficult,” Hunter told the Toledo Blade in the days leading up to the event.
And difficult it certainly was.
According to the Associated Press, Hunter had to battle "heat, rain, fatigue and more" to finish the trek.
"The boys are struggling but fighting to finish," a family member wrote on Instagram Sunday. "Please pray for them and wish them luck."
Hunter told the AP that he had been "more tired than I think I've ever been" during the journey, and that he had considered stopping at around the 30-mile mark.
"But we pushed through it," Hunter said, after successfully finishing the trek. "And we're here."
ABC News reports that Hunter, who lifted weights to prepare for the event, has been carrying Braden around for years. The two brothers have a special bond, the news outlet writes; each is the other's inspiration and cheerleader.
"I can't even describe to you how special [Braden] is to me. I can't put it into words," Hunter told the AP. "He's awesome. He's always there for me. I really just wanted to give back to him in some way."