Have you ever dreamed of travelling the world? For Kevan Chandler this was something he had always wanted to do. He dreamed of backpacking through Europe. There was just one problem, Kevan is a wheelchair user. He has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative disorder that affects his muscles. Most people would think that this would rule out any chance that Kevan could realise his dream but they would be wrong. After all where there is a will there is always a way. This past summer Kevan finally achieved his goal when he and his friends set off on a three-week trip. But it wasn’t as easy as just clicking their heels and taking off to Europe. It involved a bit more planning than that.
First he and his friends had to design and build a special backpack that allowed them to carry Kevan on their backs. His pals then spent months training to build up the strength they needed in order to carry 65-pound Chandler around England, Ireland and France. Yes that’s right, Kevan’s friends agreed to take it in turns to carry their friend on their backs so that he could fulfil his dream. You might think that the gang chose accessible locations in order to make things easier for themselves, wrong again. The idea was to travel to places that his wheelchair could never take him. One of these places was a sixth century monastery in Skellig Micheal off the coast of Ireland. There were 600 steps standing between Kevan and that monastery but that didn’t stop them from reaching their destination.
“My philosophy is just to keep moving” Kevan Chandler
This crazy idea was first hatched back in 2013 when Chandler took on urban splanking with a group of mates. The sewers of Indiana mightn’t seem like the most accessible place for someone in a wheelchair because well, they are not. However with a little help from his friends Kevan was able to take part. After this adventure he had well and truly caught the travel bug. He began to dream of going to other far off places. When Kevan first ran the idea passed his friends he was surprised that they were so excited by it. He couldn’t believe the trip of a life time was really going to happen or that they would do this for him. The next challenge that the group faced was to raise the money so that they could actually go. They couldn’t afford to fund the trip by themselves. Kevan set up a GoFundMe page and asked people to donate money. They called the project ‘We Carry Kevan‘ Their motto is “there is no I in Kevan.” It was a team effort all the way.
When I see a mountain and I’m filled with fear, I go for it anyway. Because we’re all broken, some are just more obviously broken, and life, regardless of the disease, is a beautiful gift.” Kevan Chandler
Their story received a lot of attention online and really seemed to strike a chord with people. They did many interviews and became known around the world. People were truly inspired by this act of friendship. The money was quickly raised and on June 19th 2016 they were off. Chandler is a writer and so he had planned to write a book about their adventure upon their return. However energised by the positive response they received the team decided to have a film crew accompany them on their travels so they could document the trip. It was a way of bringing everyone who donated money along for the ride. Both of these projects are in the works and will be out later this year. Kevan and his team hope that it will show people that they can do anything they set their mind too and not to let their limitations hold them back.
Kevan has captured the publics imagination due to his positive, tenacious attitude to life. He attributes this to his parents and his sister Connie who also has SMA. Even though the trip is done Kevan hopes that he and his team can continue to inspire people with disabilities to achieve their goals. He also hopes that there might be more trips in their future. They have their heart set on China and walking a portion of the Great Wall. As a person with a disability I was obviously drawn to Kevan’s story. I love to travel but it’s not always easy to do as not all places are accessible to me. However that’s not really the part of Kevan’s story that interests me the most. Of course it’s very impressive that they built this backpack that can carry him. What really amazes me is that his friends would do this for him and that he would let them. After all so many things could have gone wrong. What if one of his friends had fallen or gotten hurt? He had to completely trust them. His friends also had to trust each other in order to complete the journey.
They shared many pictures of the trip online. (NOTE These are not my pictures) Some of the places they traveled to really did look scary but when Kevan was asked what was the most frightening part of the whole journey his answer was surprising. It wasn’t the trip or the rocky terrain, it wasn’t climbing mountains or sleeping outdoors. It was asking his friends for help that first time. Even though he was in the safety of his own home at the time, taking that risk was the most frightening part for him. I think we can all relate to that feeling. We are all reluctant to ask for help or put ourselves out there. Kevan took that chance and he and his friends had a life changing adventure as a result.
“That stepping out, going from the safety of my brain to out in the open – there’s no turning back then…We all have dreams and crazy ideas lingering in the back of our minds, but when you’ve got a good one, it takes unbelievable courage to transition it from the confines of your mind to a public expression…..So, as adventurous and ominous some of the moments were in the trip, I think those initial steps of publicising were the bravest. ” Kevan Chandler
To me that is the bravest part of their story. I really admire Kevan and his friends for doing it and for trusting in each other. Kevan had to leave his wheelchair behind and totally rely on his friend to carry him from place to place. I would be truly terrified to leave the comfort of my chair, my wings and trust someone else to transport me. His friends were honoured and humbled that they were able to help him fulfill his dream. That really is true friendship on both sides. Perhaps if we all asked for help more often or if we offered to carry each other a bit more the world would be a better place. To find out what’s next for Kevan and his team check out their website http://www.wecarrykevan.com. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.
*All pictures are property of Kevan Chandler