We Carry Kevan: Meet the Fort Wayne man behind a movement serving others and changing the world

Inspiring people can have many different impacts on our lives. Some inspire us to work harder, some to broaden our perspectives, and some to improve our lifestyles. There are also a very precious few people in the world who encompass all of these attributes.

Fort Wayne’s own, Kevan Chandler, is such a person. Not only is he the founder of a successful not-for-profit, but also he is an internationally in-demand speaker and a designer of outdoor exploration gear. Not bad for a guy still in his mid-30s.

But what makes Chandler’s story so unique is that he’s done it all because of—and while living with—Spinal Muscular Atrophy. 

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a disease that inhibits communication between the brain and muscles, causing progressive muscle loss. Chandler—who’s older sister also has the disease—has had the disability since birth, making mobility a significant issue for him.

But if you talk to Chandler, he’s careful to point out that he’s also had a community of loving individuals to help him for every bit as long as he's had the condition.

“My first two or three wheelchairs, for instance, were hand-me-downs—whether from my sister or someone else,” he says. “But my Dad could fix them, take them apart, and improve them. Then, the guy who built my current chair, we still get together pretty regularly. He’s taken my chair on as his pet project. We’re going back and saying, ‘The chair is good. But what if we tried something different?’”

Because Chandler requires regular care, the people who have helped him with his wheelchairs through the years are a beautiful metaphor for the life he lives today. He is—and has always been—surrounded by a community that graciously helps, however they can.

In doing so, Chandler’s community has also created unbreakable bonds and lasting friendships.

In 2016, a handful of these friends began planning a three-week backpacking trip through Europe, and there was no way Chandler wasn’t coming with them. So they hatched a plan to carry him throughout the entire adventure. Landing on a backpack child carrier as a springboard, they immediately contacted the backpack’s manufacturer, Germany’s Deuter, for help customizing it for their needs.

“They were completely supportive,“ Chandler says. “They worked with us on figuring out what we needed to do and how best to do it. There was a lot of testing and failing for months on the design. But it worked! It stayed together, and I felt good.”

With Chandler now securely and comfortably on their backs, the group set off for Europe on a trip that would shape their lives in dramatic ways.

Foreseeing the inspirational potential of their overseas pilgrimage, they filmed their entire trip while Chandler maintained a written record of his experience. These efforts culminated in the documentary film, The View From Here, and accompanying book, We Carry Kevan.

While the documentary brilliantly displays the possibilities that exist when people love each other and work toward a common purpose, the book is a private look into Chandler’s personal experience.

“I get to talk about my inner commentary, my inner battles with disabilities, and walking through a broken world, literally,” Chandler says. “It’s about seeing how people interact with my friends and me, then comparing that to how we all treat each other. It’s really about a large conversation within myself.”

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in public can be a frightening thought for most people. But according to Chandler, it’s all worth it when he hears how much it has helped people.

“People seem really encouraged and challenged,” he says. “It’s been really cool to hear people say, ‘I read the book at just the right time in my life. I needed to hear these things.’”

“Hopefully, it gives some answers, or at least puts people on the path of seeking those answers,” Chandler adds.

Through his writing, film, and travels, many people have found inspiration in what he and his friends are accomplishing. They’ve wanted to know more. What is it like living with his disease? How has he accomplished so much? And, the most popular question: What is that backpack, and where can they get one? We Carry Kevan has created production versions of the Deuter backpack.

Recognizing the need, the group founded We Carry Kevan, a not-for-profit dedicated to answering these questions and more. They’ve also provided production versions of the Deuter backpack and are committed to closing social gaps between the able-bodied and disabled communities.

Since his trip, Chandler has also been a globe-trotting ambassador for people living with disabilities. Not only has his friend group added a breathtaking backpacking trip through China to their resumes, but Chandler stays extremely busy with regular speaking engagements around the world, including a Ted X Talk in Ireland.

For Chandler, the best part is when he gets to personally deliver a new backpack to a family or an individual in need.

“We love to come alongside of them,” Chandler says. “We love visiting their homes and being present with them. We also love having conversations to show them that they are not alone.”

For Chandler, the best part is when he gets to personally deliver a new backpack to a family or an individual in need.

In a world inundated with political, social, and technological unknowns, fears, and stresses, Chandler sees love and possibility through the selfless giving and service to others. And he attributes it all to the Man upstairs.

“I get to see Jesus over and over,” Chandler says. “From every morning when the guys show up to get me out of bed, sit me on the toilet, and give me a shower, to when I was being carried on The Great Wall of China. I had the realization of, ‘I’m actually on a guy’s back doing this! There’s zero reason for him to be doing this other than, he loves me and wants me to be part of this with him.’ That’s a picture of Jesus.”

You might say Kevan Chandler lives a life of extremes. On the one hand, he is bound to a wheelchair and requires the help of a tireless group of friends to accomplish menial tasks. On the other, he travels the world while inspiring people to come together in love and community.

But through it all, the most inspiring thing about him is that he has never considered giving up.

“Whatever is going on with my body, my soul is what matters, and Jesus has that,” Chandler says. “So I wouldn’t change my life for anything.”