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Bountiful • Sports wrap held the once-athletic man's paralyzed legs firmly together and a brace propped his head upright. He wore a blue watch cap and a beaming smile.
Friends and family on Saturday crowded around 19-year-old Gates Hunsaker's wheelchair under the shade of a tree.
Then the personality everyone knew cut the awkward silence.
"What are all you guys doing here?" he joked, thanking the crowd for showing up at a fundraiser for him. "This is rad."
Hunsaker was critically injured April 5 after attempting a jump over Big Cottonwood Creek and coming up short. He suffered hypothermia, plus neck and back injuries.
Now, he can't feel anything beyond his elbows and has a less than 1 percent chance of walking again.
Few would assume this bright, optimistic smile belongs to the face of a man who used to play football and swim competitively, but now won't be able to fulfill a lifelong dream of serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the traditional way.
"He has prepared his whole life to go on a mission. This is obviously a huge setback," said Jeff Hunsaker, an uncle. "He told me this is his mission now, to inspire."
Hundreds of people gathered at an amphitheater in the South Davis Recreation Center on Saturday for a benefit concert to show their support and raise money for Hunsaker.
Earlier in the morning another fundraiser involved a friend who swam eight hours straight the length of time Hunsaker was in surgery and recovery.
With the help of friends and neighbors, the family has rebuilt a portion of its home to allow for an elevator to be installed to make the living quarters more wheelchair accessible.
"This has been amazing," Hunsaker's dad, Brian Hunsaker, told the crowd. "We are so thankful for all the support for Gates and we all appreciate it."
Friends say if there is something to be gained from this accident it is Gates Hunsaker's example of optimism amid trials. He is recovering faster than anyone thought he would and can now move his forearms.
"He has always been devoted and determined to work hard to get whatever he wanted," said Troy Perry, a friend. "He is a really inspirational kid."
Hunsaker's best friend, Garrett Millward, said the April 5 snowboard trip was supposed to be "just one more snowboard trip before [Gates] left [for his mission]."
Millward received his mission call around the same time as Hunsaker and will be leaving for a mission in Southern California this week. He plans to keep in touch with his friend through emails. He said that even though the two grew up planning to go on missions at the same time, they will accomplish that goal in a different way.
"It [the accident] doesn't change anything, we are still going to cross off everything on the bucket list," Millward said. "It just adds a little twist to it."
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