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A difficult but poignant walk to remember

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Every painstaking step was difficult. But then again, Victor Hottel has walked many a difficult road in his 23 years.

This one was significant. At the other end of the aisle awaited Victor's identical twin brother Martin, who was about to be married to the love of his life, Christie Pippin.

Martin had asked two young men to serve as his best men. Close friend Robert Atkinson would handle the typical duties of planning the bachelor party, tending to the ring, signing the certificate marriage.

The other best man, Victor, is unable to do any of those things. Surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2013 left Victor unable to talk or to control his body. Before that, he had been a strapping athlete. Now, every movement is a struggle.

Would he be able to participate in the wedding at all?

It was a testament to the love between these brothers that Victor would even attempt the walk at all. And something else too: the love of the two people who have been steadfastly in their corner for these last eight years. Laura and Jay Hottel are not your typical parents of the groom.

The couple and their young son Andrew developed a fast bond with Martin and Victor shortly after the handsome brothers with the impeccable manners and excellent academic records at Cape Fear High School first visited the youth group at Stedman Pentecostal Holiness Church in 2012. It didn't take long to realize something was amiss.

“Basically, for the first 15 and a half years of their life, they were miserable,″ Laura Hottel said. “They were left to find their own way through life.″

The brothers spent as much time as they could in the Hottels’ warm and welcoming home in the Baywood subdivision. The Hottels were awarded permanent custody of the boys on Dec. 31, 2012, which was Victor and Martin’s 16th birthday.

The newly blended family had a blissful year together before devastation struck. The twins visited the beach and the mountains for the first time in their lives. They did the things that close families do: went fishing, hiking, camping.

Victor developed an infection shortly into the wrestling season in 2013. A subsequent MRI would reveal a tumor on his brain stem. Doctors performed a successful surgery to remove the tumor, but Victor has inexplicably never recovered the use of his limbs or his ability to speak. For the last seven years, the family has cared for him round the clock. Their lives have been filled with appointments and hospitalizations.

Still, no one has given up on Victor.

Martin was able to go off to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduate, content in the knowledge that his brother was loved and cared for back home. Along the way, he met and fell in love with a pretty girl from back home.

Which led to Victor's walk Saturday at the Carolina Barn at McCormick Farms in Spring Lake. Jay Hottel supported Victor on one side and family friend Michael Reep was on the other side. Those in attendance cheered them on as, step by step, the three walked in the sweltering late afternoon heat. At last, they reached Martin, waiting to embrace his brother.

"I think it all went well," Laura Hottel said. "It was tough, but he did it. He made it."

And tears in many of the eyes watching.

A walk to remember for sure.


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