Amputee speaks on resilience
May 3, 2012
By VINCE LITTLE
FORT BENNNING, Ga. (May 2, 2012) -- In 2005, Kyle Maynard said he was just going through the motions as a motivational speaker.
Born a congenital amputee -- with arms that end at the elbows and legs near the knees -- he shot to national fame after capturing a state high school wrestling title in metro Atlanta, setting weightlifting records and overcoming major obstacles in what he calls the "pursuit of normalcy."
Maynard appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, HBO's Real Sports, ABC's 20/20 and Good Morning America. He won an ESPY Award in 2004 for Best Athlete with a Disability and went on author The New York Times best-seller, No Excuses.
But he had begun to question his own path in life, struggled with depression and even felt like a fraud, he said.
On the last leg of a book tour in 2006, Maynard met two Soldiers while waiting at an airport in D.C. en route to a speaking engagement. They were former military police who'd suffered severe burns from a roadside bomb and ambush in Iraq.
He said the troops told him about a suicide pact they made lying in hospital beds at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, about a week after the attack, fearing all the surgeries and years of rehab on a painful road to recovery. On the day they made that decision, however, the duo happened to catch his story on TV, and that's what got them to call it off.
It forever changed Maynard's life, too.
"I was the depressed motivational speaker and felt totally transparent when I stepped on stage. It drove me to the point where I wanted to quit," he said. "(After meeting the Soldiers), I came back to the hotel that night and just cried, balling for hours, thinking about that pity party I was having for myself. I think about those guys every day. They helped show me my purpose.
"When we know our purpose in life, we can go through anything it takes to get there. We have to find that 'why.' … To find that truth, you'll realize then that there are no good excuses."
Maynard shared his message of inspiration and resilience Friday with hundreds of Soldiers during a presentation in Marshall Auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall.
Last year, the 26-year-old became the first man ever to hike on all fours up Mount Kilimanjaro, bear-crawling 19,340 feet to the roof of Africa. Maynard broke another barrier in April 2009, becoming the first quadruple amputee to step into the cage and compete as an amateur mixed martial arts fighter.
"It's hard to get back up when you feel like you've been kicked in the gut. But just showing up and continuing to try is gonna get you there," he said. "Being born this way was beyond my control. My reaction and response to it was not."
Growing up, Maynard said he got plenty of awkward stares but has always tried to inject humor into the situation. When he was 10, a guy came up to him at a Taco Bell once and asked: "Dude, what happened to your arms and legs?"
"I told him, Vietnam," he replied, which drew laughter from the Fort Benning audience.
Today, with basically two elbows, Maynard can type up to 50 words a minute, eat and write without any adaptations, and drive a vehicle that has little modifications. He drove his Dodge Durango here from Atlanta, where he lives on his own in a three-story townhouse, with a bedroom on the top floor.
His parents taught him self-reliance from an early age and gave him a chance to "dream," and not just live, he said.
At 11, Maynard decided he wanted to wrestle and play football. He thrived as a nose guard, but life on the mat proved more difficult. Over a season and a half, Maynard lost 35 straight bouts -- and begged his parents to quit.
Along the way, he overheard others discuss his disability, saying it's a "physical impossibility" and there was no way he'd ever pick up a wrestling victory.
Then came his senior year at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga., when he won 36 varsity matches and earned a top 12 ranking in the nation.
Maynard said he also began weight training around the same time. After a modest start, he earned the title of "GNC World's Strongest Teen" by bench-pressing 240 pounds 23 times. In February 2009, with leather straps and chains attached to his arms, he successfully lifted 420 pounds.
"The reality is, we have to let go of that victim mentality -- the excuses, the whining, the complaining -- all the stuff that gets in the way of the things we want the most," he told the Soldiers. "Every one of us is making at least one excuse that's touching every area of our lives. Can you imagine how different your life would look six months from now if you say, 'Today, this excuse dies where I'm seated?'"
Maynard had another source of inspiration on his conquest of Mount Kilimanjaro, he said. The team carried the ashes of a fallen Soldier up to the summit, and he took them on the final push before scattering his remains at the peak.
"When we're fighting for something that's more than just ourselves, I believe we can go through anything," he said.
The MMA fight, meanwhile, was held in Auburn, Ala., where Maynard went the distance but lost a 30-27 decision to Bryan Fry.
"The experience was more important than the result, because everybody said I wouldn't last 15 seconds," he said.
His next target? The Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, he said.
In the feature that aired on HBO's Real Sports, correspondent Bernie Goldberg summed it up by saying, "Kyle's taken away the right to complain from the rest of us."