MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Congratulations to the Class of 2019! Graduation season is behind us. For one Madison County senior, it was a step toward one of the biggest goals of his young life.
It began on April 20, 2005. An Alabama State Trooper rushed Victoria Esslinger to the hospital to be with her husband. Their five-year-old son Hunter had been hit by a vehicle. Doctors didn't think he would live.
Hunter survived but suffered a traumatic brain injury. 14 years later, he was ready to receive his diploma from Madison County High School. “It's a huge accomplishment,” his mom said proudly, “He's done well. By the grace of God, he has made it as far as he has.”
Hunter doesn't remember the accident but sometimes relives it while sleeping at night. “There was this one time where I literally felt the car hit me,” he recalled, “I felt my body fly through the air, hit hard and then I snapped right awake.”
The dreams seem real. “Well, one would call them dreams,” Hunter said, “I'd call them nightmares.” He laughed. Hunter has used a walker since he was six. But he set a big goal for his graduation. “To walk across the stage on my crutches,” he said proudly.
He had a team of supporters to help him achieve his goal. Johnathan Moore was Hunter’s adaptive physical education teacher. “I tell him to think more of what he can do instead of the things he can't do,” Coach Moore told me.
Traci Aday is a physical therapist. “This is Hunter's goal,” she said, “This is a decision, a decision for himself. So, we've just been doing what we could to make that happen.”
The two of them worked with Hunter all year. “When we first started, he could do about five steps and he'd have to sit down,” Traci told me. Coach Moore added, “And now, he's able to do laps without stopping so it's touching to see him come so far.”
The big day finally arrived on May 22, 2019. Hunter told us before graduation. He was ready. Coach Moore and Trace were there every step of the way.
Hunter knew he could do it. When his name was announced, people stood up from their seats, cheered and applauded Hunter Gregory Esslinger. He’d worked hard, not only for his diploma, but for every second of the standing ovation the people in the Propst Arena at the Von Braun Center gave him.
It was a moment, Hunter and everyone there will never forget. “It’s going to be difficult to say goodbye to all my friends but I’m extremely happy to leave school and start work with my dad,” he told us afterward. He’s excited about the road ahead.
He had some encouraging words for others facing battles of their own. “It’s time to push on,” he said with a smile, “Even though you have doubt, push, push on through and you’ll reach great achievements.”
Goal set and achieved! Great job Hunter. Before he starts working with his dad, Hunter is heading to North Carolina to work with children with autism at summer camp.