Robert Gunn couldn’t contain his excitement.
The White Knoll senior defensive back was jumping around when he entered the game late in the fourth quarter of a 41-13 win against Clover on Sept. 11.
“When my position coach told me to go in, my heart kind of stopped,” Gunn said. “It felt amazing. I started jumping around and was so excited. I didn’t make any contact with anyone, but it still meant a lot to go in.”
For many, it was playing four or five plays in a blowout victory. That wasn’t the case for Gunn, who has overcome many challenges to get to this point.
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Gunn has spastic hemiplegia, one of the nine forms of cerebral palsy according to cerebral-palsy-information.com. He was diagnosed at a young age after his mother, Tia, suffered a stroke during her pregnancy.
Spastic hemiplegia affects movement on one side of the person’s body. In Gunn’s case, it is right side and, occasionally, you can see him hold his right arm as he is going through drills.
But other than that, Gunn was out there with his teammates at practice on Tuesday, scooping up passes during drills.
Gunn said he went through a variety of physical therapy treatments growing up to build his muscles and strength. Since he has been on the football team, coaches have worked with him to make the necessary adjustments on how to do certain things, such as lifting weights and catching the football.
The 17-year-old didn’t play sports until he started at White Knoll. With encouragement from his mother, he went out for the football team.
Gunn was a member of the White Knoll B team as a freshman, and then played on the JV squad the past two seasons. This is his first year on the Timberwolves’ varsity team.
“My first year here, his mom was the first one I talked to. She called me. She was concerned about him being allowed to participate,” said White Knoll coach Dean Howell, who is in his third season.
“She was super about it and wanted to her son to have a chance. We gave him a chance, and he has been great for us. He doesn’t have the physical gifts that others have, but he doesn’t let it hinder him. He is a great kid who works hard and is definitely an inspiration.
“Often times we’ve got the ‘woe-is-me’ attitude and feel like the world is against us. But he is an inspiration to show us that even when the cards are stacked against us, you’ve still got a fighting chance.”
Gunn’s presence has rubbed off on his teammates. Running back Maurice Jones, who has known Gunn since middle school, was excited to learn he was coming out for the football team and said the rest of the players feed off his enthusiasm.
“He is just such a great person to be around and just so uplifting,” Jones said. “He just makes you want to do better and work harder. He has no problems, he is never upset and never mad. He always pushes everyone to do their best.”
By playing, Gunn said he hopes to inspire others who have cerebral palsy or other diseases to not be afraid to chase their dreams despite the perceived limitations.
“Come out, I know you are scared. Don’t think that people are going to make fun of you or treat you differently. My teammates love that I come out and try as hard as I do,” Gunn said.
Even if Gunn doesn’t play in another game, he has achieved more than he thought was possible four years ago and is going to enjoy being part of the Timberwolves for the rest of the season.
White Knoll has won four consecutive games and is 4-1 headed into Friday’s matchup against Spring Valley.
“I feel like I came a long way, and I’m excited for what the future holds,” Gunn said.