He Ain’t Heavy

Kevan Chandler lives with spinal muscular atrophy. It’s a genetic disease that attacks the motor nerve cells, slowly robbing you of the ability to move. Your strength begins to fade as muscles waste away. SMA is the number one genetic cause of death for infants, claiming most lives by the age of 18 months. Making it to adulthood was only one of Kevan’s many challenges.

The condition has forced Kevan to spend his life in a wheelchair. That means he’s typically unable to join his friends on many of their adventures. The guys Kevan is closet to enjoy “urban exploring;” the practice of climbing through tunnels and old, abandoned buildings. As you can imagine, this type of activity isn’t exactly ideal for someone with extremely limited mobility.

So when the gang devised a plan for a new adventure, a backpacking trip across Europe, you can imagine how Kevan must have felt. But the group declared that they wanted everyone to participate – everyone including Kevan. They couldn’t imagine leaving him behind. The challenge became how to overcome the limitations posed by SMA in order to experience the trip as a team.

Over the course of several months, a special backpack was designed – one that would allow Kevan’s able-bodied friends to carry his 65 pound frame through France, Ireland, and the other countries on their itinerary. Four of the men took turns carrying Kevan, while another three managed handled the gear and recorded a trip that has evolved into a mission.

Upon their return, the group founded a special organization called “We Carry Kevan.” This nonprofit seeks to rethink the idea of accessibility. Their goal is to pursue new ways of equipping not just those with disabilities, but their support systems as well. They realized that the backpack they designed for their friend represented a doorway to inclusion and teamwork never seen before.

What strikes me about this story is the mindset of those involved. And I think there a few lessons for those of us operating as part of any team.

1. The team is better when everyone participates. Like many of us, this group dreamed of overseas travel. But for these guys, the trip simply wasn’t worth taking unless everyone could go. They didn’t want to leave anyone behind. From the get-go, the idea was to travel together. How many of us look at our journey as an individual effort? We may call those around us a team, but do we really desire to be part of the group? Does our default vision of success involve others?

2. They felt a responsibility to carry Kevan. Teams that work together are teams that succeed together. Kevan’s friends didn’t simply dangle the prospect of a trip in front of him and suggest he find a way to join them. They invested themselves in his success. When you see the other members of your team as vital parts of your circle, you start to see their challenges as yours. The team succeeded by figuring out a way for one individual to move forward. Without everyone’s participation, it’s unlikely the effort would have ended in a positive result.

3. Kevan was worth carrying. I can’t imagine the physical challenges Kevan Chandler faces every day. I do know that small setbacks often cause my attitude to turn sour. When your outlook is negative, no one wants to be around you, much less help you. When your first instinct is to complain, people will move away from you, not toward you. Kevan is obviously someone people want to associate with. His friends want him in their lives, so they instinctively stepped up to help.

I love finding out about stories like this. I love being inspired. Naturally, I’m now thinking about the people in my circle that might need a hand. I’m wondering what I can do to help. And I’m wondering if the members my team are ready to carry me should the opportunity arise.