- Associated Press - Saturday, March 3, 2018

LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Kevan Chandler spent a lifetime in a wheelchair dreaming of far off places before he decided to break the mold.

After venturing across Europe, Chandler has become a living example that life is full of possibility and hope - a message he hopes to spread as he jets off to visit Chinese orphanages in the fall.

“A lot of these kids have never seen an adult with a similar disability,” said Chandler, who has spinal muscular atrophy. “I hope our time with them and with their caregivers will be an encouragement that, hey, there is a future, there is hope.”

Chandler, who spent most of his life in Winston-Salem, inadvertently became an advocate for people with disabilities when he traveled across Europe in a handmade backpack in lieu of his wheelchair.

In September, Chandler will embark on a trip to China where he and friends will stay at local orphanages in the capital city Beijing and share their story.

Chinese authorities have estimated that a large percentage of abandoned children there have disabilities.

“Whether it’s ‘Oh, look he’s traveling the world’ or ‘Look how his friends help him,’ I hope the kids and caretakers will see they’re not bound by their disabilities,” said Chandler, a North Davidson High School graduate.

Chandler will be joined by four friends who will take turns carrying him. He will also have a translator, a guide and two video crew members.

The video crew will document the journey, much like they did during Chandler’s trip to Europe two years ago.

In 2016, Chandler left his wheelchair behind at the airport to venture through Ireland, England and France with his friends.

It was a leap of faith considering he had never been out of his wheelchair for more than a couple of hours at a time, he said.

While he broke his nose in an almost-car accident, it was the greatest adventure of his life, fraught with visits to historic wonders, he said.

“I thought Europe was it, so it’s kind of cool to see this continue to grow,” Chandler said.

“I’m sure there will be hiccups and challenges on our trip to China, but it’ll just add to the story.”

It’s a lofty goal for most people to traverse the Great Wall of China or climb 600-plus rocky stairs to see a sixth-century monastery in Europe, but Chandler has never let anything hold him back.

A few years ago, he created a backpack that he can fit inside and allows his friends to carry him on their backs.

Traveling in a backpack, as opposed to a wheelchair, has allowed Chandler to visit many places that were not as accessible to him, he said.

“It’s not so much about my dream and what I want to do but giving back and being part of projects that can change lives,” he said.

“We all have limitations, but through creativity, courage and community, we can move beyond those limitations and embrace our full potential.”

Chandler created a documentary on his Europe journey and has written a book on the experience.

At the request of people around the world, they’re working to build a professionally-made backpack that would be adjustable for different disabilities, Chandler said, not just for big adventures but for daily life as well.

They will give backpacks to some of the kids they meet in China.

“Our culture developed this idea we need to be independent and do everything ourselves with ramps and elevators,” Chandler said.

“I don’t think it’s as much about independence as it is about cooperation.”

While the bulk of their journey will be dedicated to interacting with people at the orphanages, Chandler and his friends will take some day trips to see the Shaolin Temple, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in their mission to see the world.

They launched a Go Fund Me page in late January to help fund the trip.

“With all our travels, we don’t just want to be spectators of the world,” Chandler said. “We want to be part of changing the world.”


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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