Health & Wellness

Man with disability travels the world on his friends' backs

Kevan Chandler challenges himself every day. Fortunately, he gets a little help from his friends.

Chandler was diagnosed with muscular atrophy shortly after he was born 29 years ago. In 2014, he moved away from his family in Greensboro, North Carolina, to live on his own in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Courtesy of Kevan Chandler
A young and adventurous Kevan Chandler go-cart racing with his mom

Before he moved, a few of Chandler's friends invited him along on an urban exploration expedition into Greensboro's sewer system. Rigging a makeshift backpack, they took turns carrying their 65-pound friend around underground.

Courtesy of Kevan Chandler
Traveling through North Carolina's sewer system

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"We came out of the experience thinking that, if we survived that, what else can we do?" Chandler told TODAY.com. "I've always wanted to go to Europe, but knew I'd have trouble seeing the places that aren't accessible to me."

Since then, he's been thinking about meaningful destinations to visit — and on June 19, he and four travel buddies will set off to make his dream become reality.

Courtesy of Whitney Johnson Keller
The We Carry Kevan Team at Old Salem in Winston-Salem on March 7, 2016

"There were so many sights I wanted to see, but I ended up picking places based on people in history who have influenced me," Chandler said.

The group's itinerary includes a sixth-century monastery in Skellig, an island off the coast of Ireland, which is inaccessible to wheelchair users due to the 700 steps it takes to get to the top.

Courtesy of Kevan Chandler
Kevan Chandler

Next stop is Samois-sur-Seine in France, onetime home of Chandler's idol, iconic jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

"He's a huge inspiration to me," Chandler said of Reinhardt. "Instead of giving up guitar after an accident permanently damaged his left hand, he figured out how to continue playing, despite his disability."

The last and possibly most important destination is London's Kensington Gardens, where Chandler's ancestors, as well as "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie, lived.

Courtesy of Kevan Chandler
Kevan and his sister Connie, who also suffers from muscular dystrophy, dressing up as Peter Pan and Wendy

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"A lot of writers I look up to and enjoy most are from there, so I can't wait to see the places that inspired them to write what I grew up loving," said Chandler, an author himself. "I also think it's important and understated these days to know where you came from."

Chandler launched a GoFundMe to raise money for the three-week excursion. Deuter, a sports equipment company, is creating a baby carriage modified to fit his size.

"Some aspects make me nervous, like safety or cultural differences, but that kind of comes with traveling whether you're disabled or not," Chandler said. "It's going to be a challenge, and I'm up for it!"

Courtesy of Kevan Chandler
Kevan Chandler
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