Chapter 32: Kyle Maynard

Chapter 32: Kyle Maynard

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens

Kyle Maynard

Author, Speaker, and Champion Wrestler

Quick Facts:

Born with congenital amputation

Graduated from Georgia University

3 ft. tall and 120 lbs.

Has appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, 20/20, Good Morning America, the CBS Early Show, and as a cover story in USA Today

Without hands and fingers he can eat and write without using any adaptions, and type 50 words per minute

Top 12 senior high school wrestler in the nation

Author of the book No Excuses

Recipient of the 2004 President’s Award for the Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame

Weight lifting record holder

Founder and owner of his own gym, No Excuses Athletics

I have only three joints: my neck and two shoulders. I stand three feet off the ground with no elbows or knees. You might be thinking, “How did you end up this way?” Well, I was actually born like this as the result of a rare disorder called “congenital amputation.”

I didn’t look like other kids, but I did have the same choice to make. I could become bitter by focusing on all the limitations and negativity in my life or I could search for all the positive possibilities that were also in my life.

I used to wear prosthetics (artificial limbs) when I was in kindergarten, but I found that they actually inhibited me more than they helped. One day, as my mother was watching the class through the window, my teacher picked me up from my chair and placed me on the floor in the middle of a circle formed by the other kids. The teacher then handed me a toy machine gun to play with (not something that would happen today!) and I fumbled around just trying to hold it so I could play with the other students.

That night I went home and told my mother I wanted to go to school without my prosthetic arms and legs. At that point, I knew that I was different from other kids, but I accepted my shortcomings and unique challenges and decided to try things my way. Surprisingly, during the next day at school, the kids told the teacher that they liked me better without my prosthetics. This was a big turning point for me. For the first time, I looked at myself differently. By accepting myself and my own challenges, other people could accept me too.

Aim high and accept no excuses.

I knew I didn’t have the same physical structure as other athletes, but I didn’t let anything hold me back from participating in various sports and activities over the years, including swimming, baseball, street hockey, football, and wrestling—all without prosthetics. When I was in the sixth grade, I joined my first football team. The coach of the opposing team told my coach that the only reason he allowed me to be on the team was because it was a “nice thing to do.” Then he continued to tell my coach that his team would be careful not to touch me. Well that fired him up. My coach walked boldly up to him and said, “I just dare you to run at him.” During the game one kid took the dare and I tackled him right away… he didn’t come close to me for the rest of the game. It wasn’t a huge deal and that one tackle didn’t determine the outcome of the game, but these little victories helped build my confidence and self-esteem.

I certainly wasn’t born with the determination, drive, and willpower that I have today, but there were key turning points where I made a conscious choice to take charge of my life. Even when I was growing up my parents told me, “Kyle, if you don’t learn to do certain things, like eat with standard silverware, then you’re going to starve to death.” It was actually a really simple choice I had to make: Complain or take responsibility. Now, I’ve learned how to write with a pen and pencil and I’ve also learned to type fifty words per minute (which is really helpful when going through college).

By learning to rely on myself, I’ve also developed a competitive spirit and I work very hard to be the best person I can be. For me, the best compliment is when my teammates view me and treat me as a normal player on the team—as one of them. I always do what I can to get the team fired up; not because I am a token member, but because I am a player who is determined to win.

I’ve found that my passion to win and my desire to work hard has encouraged my friends, family, and teammates to help me succeed—they can see I give my best and as a result, they want me to win big.

You have to do what you are passionate about and you have to do it for the right reasons. I’m a competitive person, and I hate losing, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my share of setbacks. In fact, when I was in high school, I lost thirty-five wrestling matches in my first season. I faced an enormous amount of rejection, but fortunately my dad helped me believe that if I gave things another try, I could succeed. I was ready to give up and quit, but I didn’t. Sure enough, I had a breakthrough the next season. I won a match… then another… and another. I built on my victories and went on to become one of the top twelve senior high school wrestlers in the nation—and the only one without arms and legs!

Life is not about what I CAN do, it’s about what I WILL do. I will always step up and work hard. If you are my opponent, you can count on the fact that I won’t ever give up. I feel so grateful that I’ve been able to do so many incredible things in my life, but none of it would have happened if I allowed myself to quit or feel sorry for myself. I’ve made the choice to eliminate excuses from my life and that one decision has opened up so many new opportunities for me. I’ve been invited to appear on many different TV shows and radio shows, I’ve met some incredible people and I was even offered a great book deal.

I wasn’t born with any special abilities or advantages—in fact, I was born with additional challenges, but I was determined that my own challenges wouldn’t hold me back. I know that in order to live normally and compete in sports as well, I have to keep trying and trying while keeping the big picture in mind. Sure I’ll face obstacles, and I will get knocked down… but if I want to be successful, I know I’ve got to persevere and stand back up no matter what.

I believe that adversity makes us stronger because we can sometimes learn a whole lot more from losing than we can from winning. It’s important to stay positive, be optimistic, and find ways to help and inspire others. And just because you’ve decided to focus on something specific in your life doesn’t mean that you can’t change your goals as you learn and grow. Life is full of change, and over time, our motivation can also change as new opportunities present themselves.

I never would have thought—even three years ago—that I would be where I am today. Writing a book, speaking all over the world, wrestling on a top team with the University of Georgia, meeting with famous people like Oprah, Larry King, and Arnold Schwarzenegger… it’s all amazing to me! But even with all that, I am still most at home when I’m on the mat and in the midst of competition.

I like to challenge myself because that’s when I discover what I’m truly capable of. Right now, I am really into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is similar to wrestling but a little more physical. This martial art combat-sport has now been added to the 2012 Olympic Games and I have my eye set on winning an Olympic medal. There is still a lot to learn about this sport, but over the next four years, I can get better. My favorite quote is: Know your limits, but never stop trying to break them. This quote is so perfect for me because I know that my work ethic and my desire to go out there and win can give me an extra competitive edge. In the end, the playing field is evened out by those who have the strongest desire, and by those who want to win more than anyone else.

I am truly honored to know that who I am and what I do has an impact on other people and their lives. This is both a privilege and responsibility that we’ve all been given. Everything we do affects the quality of our life and other people’s lives. I just want to be sure that the messages I send are positive. The role that I can, and do, play in other people’s lives is something that I take very seriously. I’m not a confrontational person, but when I see someone else getting picked on, you can be sure I’ll step up and say something. And, I challenge every person to not only stand up for himself or herself, but to help other people who might not have the strength or courage or skills to stand up for themselves as well.

Recently, I’ve become involved with the Beat the Streets program, where inner-city kids in Chicago have a chance to turn their lives around through the sport of wrestling. I’ve turned my garage into a makeshift fitness gym so that I can help my friends and neighbors get into shape and feel good about themselves. It’s just another way I’ve found to make a difference. One of my dreams is to have fitness centers all over the nation to help people feel empowered.

My passion for exercise and physical health has also presented some new opportunities. About a year ago, I started a CrossFit affiliate fitness center called No Excuses Athletics, where I apply the information and techniques I have used to motivate people and help them lead better lives on a daily basis. It’s a pretty intense program. In fact, the system I’m using is the same program used to train the actors for the movie 300. One of the reasons I’m really excited about my new fitness center is because it gives me the chance to work with people directly and help them become healthy and happy individuals—two factors which are crucial ingredients for an extraordinary life.

In the midst of all my plans, however, I always remind myself how fortunate I am to have choices. Yes, I have faced obstacles, but I am aware that I always have the time and the opportunity to make my own choices. That is very powerful.

Not long ago, I met a very young boy at a conference in Missouri. The boy recognized me, waved at me, and then gave me hug with a massive grin on his face. I soon learned that this boy was terminally ill with leukemia and that his life was going to be cut short. This young boy won’t have the same opportunities to make choices like many of us can. I can’t help but wonder what he might have done with another sixteen years of life like I have had or even what he might do with a few extra months or days. This helped put into perspective how fortunate we are to be able to make our own decisions and shape our own lives.

What matters most in the end, is what we DO with our lives. And the choices we make should have a truly positive impact on the world. I’ve made that pledge to myself to fight hard, and do the absolute best I can do to reach out and help other people. If I can do it, anybody can.

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners