- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Joe and Cassie Gudmundson could not have done it without their son, Easton.

Easton is like most 3-year-olds. He loves his books, games and anyone who will help him bounce around. His mom said she thinks he likes the color red now, and he recently learned how exciting drawing is.

Unlike most 3-year-olds, Easton has cerebral palsy due to a brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen to his brain at birth, a condition called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

Since, the Gudmundsons have turned a love for their son and softball into a fundraising and awareness opportunity. Their organization, Playing Ballsy for Cerebral Palsy, has raised about $5,500 to $6,000 for United Cerebral Palsy in 2015 alone.

In 2014, inspired by a softball team that plays for cancer research in Cassie’s hometown, Joe decided turn his summertime hobby into a cause. Through the help of sponsors, the Gudmundsons pay for the team’s entry fees, and then donate any of their profits. Joe said he would eventually like to turn their work into a nonprofit so he can help local families with medical bills and equipment.

“It’s definitely a two-person job to try to do softball tournaments and watch Easton,” Joe told the Winona Daily News (https://bit.ly/1SiWtZt).

Local sponsors made it possible for the Gudmundsons to form two teams, raising more money. But they were not the only teams who would join in on the cause. At the Goodview softball tournament this last summer, the men’s team that finished second place approached Joe about donating their winnings in Easton’s name - and giving Easton the trophy for his room.

“It’s a really awesome feeling knowing there are other community members out there that are willing to help as well,” Joe said, “(knowing) that you don’t have to do it all yourself, there are people who are willing to help.”

Joe has also started selling jerseys across the United States. Partnering with Berzerk Athletics out of Kansas City, he sells the jerseys online, buying them for $20 and selling for $45, donating the $25 profit on each one.

“I wasn’t about to make money off of them,” he said. “It’s more about … helping out with research,” Joe said. “And to get to have fun doing it because it’s hard; softball might something that (Easton) never gets to play.”

Today, from Texas to Michigan to California, supporters and families are wearing their jerseys with the lightning bolt E in support of cerebral palsy and Easton’s electric personality.

For the Gudmundsons, that’s a much-appreciated encouragement that helps them in dealing with the unpredictable and wide-ranging disorder.

Easton’s fine motor skills are sometimes a struggle, and as of now he does not speak. But he is making new sounds all the time, Cassie said, and is using some sign language and walking.

Cassie, a nurse, left her job to become a stay-at-home mom and Easton’s “chauffeur,” as she jokingly refers to herself, to therapy sessions every week. It’s been a learning experience, she said, but the family feels supported by the larger community they’ve built around their work.

“There are some people that you would never even know that they had it unless they told you,” she said.

“One thing that has been really cool for us doing the sales of the jerseys is meeting people online that tell us about how they have cerebral palsy, and how hard they worked and how much maybe it sucked at times, but now they’re so thankful that they (worked so hard).”

Besides raising awareness and funds, the Gudmundsons are also involved in Hope for HIE, an organization raising more awareness about types of cerebral palsy and the brain injuries that cause it. It provides a support system for families with children who experienced the same brain injury as Easton, and Cassie said the group is helpful in providing new ideas and understanding.

The Gudmundsons take every day in stride and are grateful for the opportunities they have been given. Cassie said thankfully, all of Easton’s equipment has been covered by insurance, but said they’re sure to never forget that some families don’t have the same resources.

They have no intent in stopping their work to help others who may be struggling. As parents, they know every parent has the same hope for their children.

“You want to give them the best life that you can regardless of any the circumstances,” Joe said. “It’s not really any different than what any parent wants for their kids. The best life you can give them is what you try to do.”

The soon-to-be family of four said they know there will be challenges ahead, and the road is still unclear. But Joe and Cassie said that’s OK. They are just going to continue doing the best they can.

“You just never know how much (he’s) going to progress, which I think is the hardest and best part about it,” Cassie said. “You’re not stuck in one place, but you just never know.”

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Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com

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