Congenital Amputee Overcomes the Odds

Kyle Maynard, a congenital amputee who was born with his arms ending at his elbows and legs at his knees, has lived a “no excuses” life—one that’s had its share of highlights, despite the challenges he has faced.

Maynard hasn’t let his disability deter him from success. Following the encouragement of his parents and the guidance of his coach, he blossomed into one of the top high school wrestlers in Georgia. Last year he broke the world record in the modified bench press by lifting 360 pounds—three times his body weight. He won the 2004 ESPY Award for Best Athlete with a Disability and was a recipient of the President’s Award for Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

Now, the University of Georgia sophomore has authored a book, No Excuses (published by Regnery—a HUMAN EVENTS sister company), which has already made its way onto the New York Times bestsellers list. HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor Amanda Carpenter spoke to Maynard about his success in wrestling and in life.

How do you think the way your parents treated you, as an independent person, has affected how you reach out to others?

KYLE MAYNARD: I try to teach other people disabilities don’t exist and are most certainly not an option. If you are going to limit yourself like that, you might as well not even try to go out and achieve your dreams. I think there’s possibility for anybody.

What is the likelihood you would have been as independent as you are if your parents hadn’t pushed you?

MAYNARD: I have no idea where my life would be. I have always said the biggest things that have impacted my life were God, especially, my family, who raised me, and wrestling. If you take away any of those, then my life would be completely different.

How did you react in the past when people have tried to baby you?

MAYNARD: I remember an argument with my parents—well, I remember hearing about it. My mom wanted to keep feeding me, and I would have sat there and accepted it the rest of my life, but my dad said, “No, it’s got to stop here.” I would say he said it lovingly—that I would have to learn to eat on my own or starve. I can’t imagine how that would be. I can’t imagine having a child now with a disability like that. Even knowing what I know now, it would just be a tough thing to do, undoubtedly.

Was wrestling an outlet? What attracted you to the sport?

MAYNARD: I wanted to be just like my dad. It wasn’t much of trying to get back at anybody. I wanted to be the football player and wrestler that he was. And, of course, I didn’t want to be just any football player or wrestler. I looked at him as a great athlete. He told me about his stories in high school, and I wanted to be the running back or the quarterback. That’s why I chose No. 8. It’s not a typical defensive lineman number. And then with the wrestling, it was sheer frustration for those 35 matches I lost because I wanted to be great, and in my head I thought I could be. Eventually, with enough effort and belief, I got to be there, but it wasn’t without a lot of hard emotion.

Did you ever feel your coaches or family were giving up on you when you were losing those first 35 matches?

MAYNARD: I think everyone was really thinking it might be impossible for me to pull through and get that first win. I’m not sure anybody was going to say it to me. Some people did and they voiced that. They asked me, “Why do you still wrestle?” It was a tough thing to examine yourself and wonder if it’s possible. If you’re losing 35 games in a row, it’s tough to get back out there the next time. But this was wrestling. This was physical contact. It wasn’t just having the wide receiver drop the ball on me and I’m going to blame it on him. It was all my fault. It was one on one, and I was getting my butt kicked by another guy. But I knew deep down in my heart that I could do it. There were many times when I doubted myself in big ways, but I had my family to keep pushing me on. Every time I stepped out on the mat, I would just try to give more and more effort. My dad finally looked at my matches and realized that when I wrestled the better kids, I’d wrestle extraordinarily close matches because I’d try really hard. When I wrestled the bad kids, I was just wrestling to their level and they would end up beating me. So many times it was so close. If I had just turned it up a notch, I would have killed the kid. 

You mentioned you and your father would watch the losing matches over and over again—

MAYNARD: Yeah. We never watched the ones that I had won. I don’t think I have ever seen a match that I won with him watching tape. If you’re losing, you have to do something different to change it. It definitely provoked some big arguments between him and my mom. I would be crying my eyes out. I was in sixth grade! I mean, I’ve got a great relationship with my dad, I love him a lot, but in this case he was very militant. He would yell at me, “You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this!” And then, “Look at this.” He would point out a one-inch difference where the match could have gone either way and I had given up a takedown or something like that. So, he would rewind the tape, play that part again.  Rewind it over and over again and then make me do the moves I screwed up on him.

So you would practice in the living room as you watched the tape?

MAYNARD: Oh, yeah. And he would just make me do it over and over again right there. And this would be right after I had been through a completely demoralizing tournament on Saturday and wake up on Sunday and have to deal with that. But it instilled in me a fire I really would not have had otherwise. It’s that fire that will be there for the rest of my life. If I can get through those 35 losses, then what is a worse situation? I can’t think of one, I haven’t really been in one before.