Brett Hundley lending not just his arm, but voice too
Eau Claire — Fresh off his first victory as the Packers starting quarterback in Chicago, Brett Hundley did not lounge on his one day off in the grind of the NFL regular-season work week.
Hundley and his wife, Dawnielle, hopped on a charter flight from Green Bay to Eau Claire in the late afternoon for the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin’s Harvest Gala. Hundley serves as a national “Athletes vs Epilepsy” ambassador and was the guest speaker of the annual event, which raises funds to help find a cure for the neurological disease and assist those living with its debilitating seizures.
Hundley made the most of his short flight by studying game plans for the Baltimore Ravens on his iPad, and his wife gave him an impromptu haircut in a room typically used by brides on their wedding day after arriving at the Florian Gardens.
With a quarterback meeting with position coach Alex Van Pelt looming early Wednesday morning, Hundley could not linger much after the dinner, speech, and brief question-and-answer session.
The 24-year-old Arizona native was warmly greeted by the 200-plus attendees, who first viewed highlights from Green Bay’s 23-16 victory over the rival Bears at Soldier Field.
His two perfect throws to Davante Adams in the fourth quarter elicited cheers and applause: the first a 42-yard, one-handed reception and the second a 19-yard touchdown reception. Then there was his 17-yard “run” for a first down, on which he was obviously hampered after tweaking his hamstring. “Slowest I’ve ever run in my life,” Hundley later quipped.
The epilepsy cause hits home for the Hundley family.
Hundley spoke from his heart, telling the audience that he didn’t have a prepared speech and preferred to informally talk. In a candid and sometimes emotional discussion, Hundley shared his personal experience with the disease and his aspirations to fight it and raise awareness.
His older sister Paris, now 30, has lived with the disease since the budding track standout was afflicted with her first seizure at age 11 while getting ready for school one morning — an episode Hundley will never forget.
“I had no idea what epilepsy was, what a seizure was. All I could do was pray,” Hundley said. “You feel helpless.”
Paris endured grand mal seizures so severe that she routinely was injured.
“Her shoulders have been dislocated over 100 times,” Hundley said. “She had to be carted away every single time to have her shoulder put back in place. We were spending holidays at the hospital, you are spending days, hours at a time at a hospital. Christmas, Thanksgiving. You can probably name any holiday and we’ve been in the hospital.”
Hundley said it was especially hard to watch his athletic sister deal with the physical and mental toll of taking strong medications to control the seizures.
“To see her going from a major athlete to having to take months of medication: eight, nine, she takes ten a day — still to this day,” he said.
Then there was the stigma of the disease and the seizures that elicited negative reactions by some of her peers.
“It’s not easy,” Hundley said. “Kids used to laugh, used to laugh at her. Some people just don’t know. She’s went through more than I can ever imagine. One of the strongest people I’ve ever seen. It’s not going to stop her. It didn’t and her story is a great story to be told.”
Paris, who has not had a seizure for more than three years, lives in Ohio and is raising her two-year-old son, Elijah. “Being a mom, she is enjoying life seizure-free, and has really found her way,” Hundley said.
Hundley grew emotional as he told the crowd Elijah was also diagnosed with epilepsy. There were not many dry eyes at the event as Hundley paused several times and struggled to find the words.
“For my sister to have it... and this ball of joy, it’s hard to see that,” he said. “But that’s why I’m here.”
Hundley has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving as he fills the large shoes of arguably the NFL’s best player. His sister is doing well and his nephew is holding his own.
But his most important work is off the field. And Hundley and his wife plan to do as much as they can to continue to build awareness and raise funds to fight epilepsy.
“When I stand up here as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, it's truly a blessing and it's an honor, I'll tell you that right now,” Hundley said. “But it's more of a pleasure for me to be standing up here, and to have all you guys’ attention and for you guys to listen to the message I'm trying to get out.”
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