by Vanessa Papas
You may recognise Kevan Chandler as the free-spirited adventure lover who has travelled around the globe with the help of his friends, despite being unable to walk. Kevin suffers from a rare genetic disease known as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). In 2016, he and his friends took their first trip across Europe, leaving his wheelchair at home, and his friends carried him for three weeks in a specially designed backpack that can go where wheelchairs cannot. Three years later, Kevan has become an inspiration to many disabled and able people. His non-profit group – We Carry Kevan – has thousands of followers and supporters. The group provides help to others disabled adults, teens and children.
Kevan was diagnosed with SMA when he was a baby.
“My sister and I both have Type 2. Essentially, the disease interrupts the flow of messages from your brain to your spinal cord and back. So, it affects muscles with atrophy throughout the body. That manifests itself differently in everyone, but usually it takes quite a hold on your limbs. My sister and I are in wheelchairs, although she has use of both arms while I lost the use of my right in high school. Conversely, my lungs are stronger than hers, but she has better balance than me,” he explains. “My life experiences have never been limited to my wheelchair. I had some friends after college who would scoop me up and carry me wherever we were going without a second thought. This included carrying me in a makeshift backpack one night through the sewers of my hometown just for the fun of it. After that, it was just a question of ‘what’s next’. After thinking through it a bit, I wrote to one of the guys, Tom, and said, “What if we do that again, but above ground for three weeks in Europe?” He was all in and the rest came together over the next 12 months until we finally sat on the floor in our Paris flat and took a deep breath. We’d made it, not by any means of our own strength, but our community and our good God working despite our limitations.”
Kevan and his friends have had a very exciting year. They jetted to Asia, released a book, took part in the filming of a documentary on Amazon, and have also made their backpack, which they initially designed for Kevan, available worldwide for families who could also benefit from it.
“It’s been an amazing year, and we’ve had the joy of sharing our story to inspire and challenge audiences all over the world. In August we left to explore another part of the wide world – China. We partnered with Show Hope on this adventure. Show Hope is an organisation that serves orphans with disabilities, with care centres set up throughout China. Our aim with visiting these care centres was to be an encouragement to the children, as well as the staff and their surrounding communities. In meeting with these kids and their caregivers, we hoped to demonstrate that life is full of possibility. We all have limitations, but through creativity, courage, and community, we can move beyond those limitations and embrace our full potential. As we travelled between centres, we were also able to take the opportunity to see historic sites as the Shaolin Temple, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall.”
Kevan adds that when the team returned back home from China they decided they wanted to document all the adventures they had had, focussing especially on their very first trip to Europe, where Kevin was carried in a specially designed carrier on the backs of his close friends, Tom Troyer, Philip Keller, Benjamin Duvall, Danny Tenney and Luke Thompson. The book is titled, We Carry Kevan: Six Friends, Three Countries, No Wheelchair.
“I partnered with the German company Deuter, which helped build a fully-adjustable backpack that is geared toward carrying kids and adults up to 30 kilograms who have disabilities, like spinal muscular atrophy, Spina Bifida and cerebral palsy,” explains Kevan. “The backpacks – modelled after toddler-carrying packs – have a seat, an adjustable neck pillow, pockets, a hydro-pack and wrist straps and stirrups that can be lengthened, shortened or removed. The wrist straps are Velcro so they can stick on, say if a child has spasms when they get excited, they can be held down a bit more. It’s very adjustable.” The backpacks are available for sale internationally online.
Pay It Forward
Your generosity will help Kevan continue to develop and produce backpacks for individuals with disabilities, as well as travel to meet and encourage these individuals, their families and communities. If you are in a position to assist, please log onto http://wecarrykevan.com/give.