Perhaps you’ve seen athlete Kyle Maynard on Oprah, Larry King, ESPN or ABC 20/20. Recently, the 26-year-old Georgian garnered his second ESPN “ESPY” award, this one as “Best Male Athlete with a Disability 2012” for scaling Africa’s 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro.
What surprises is that Maynard doesn’t have arms below the elbows or legs below the knees. He was born with congenital amputation (or amniotic band syndrome) affecting all four limbs. To get around, he crawls on all fours, uses a manual wheelchair or drives his own car.
As you can probably guess, life for him hasn’t always been a mountaintop experience. “There were definitely tough times,” Maynard said in a telephone interview. “My friends, sisters, and parents saw me as normal, but when I had to become part of a new social group (such as after moving to Atlanta in 1996), people would be hesitant around me. They would want to help with everything or sometimes not know what to do. That affected me a lot when I was younger.”
He went on: “I started fifth grade in Georgia. Down South everything was about football and all my friends were football players. I really wanted to play that first year with my (new) friends and felt left out.”
He ended up playing nose tackle on his sixth grade team. His job was to plug the defensive middle on all fours and try knocking his helmet into the offensive running back’s knees to tackle him. Football gave him a sense of purpose and provided camaraderie. In high school, he would lose his first 35 wrestling matches, but would go on to win 36 varsity matches his senior year and in his weight class beat many of Georgia’s best wrestlers. He never gave up.
He said, “Much of my wrestling success was due to my reaction time, strength, and stamina. Other wrestlers had a harder time training for me than I had with them because I had a room full of guys to simulate what other wrestlers could do to me. My opponents had their teammates wrestle on hands and knees trying to understand what it was like and it was much harder for them to simulate.”
After attending the University of Georgia a year, he became a motivational speaker and began promoting his book. Learn more next column about how Maynard came to terms with his disability.