I was born without hands and feet. It’s a rare condition called congenital amputation.
Living with that adversity has made me who I am today.
My parents helped me develop tools to overcome my challenges. When I was two, my dad decided that my family would stop helping me eat. He knew that one day I’d live on my own, so I’d have to look after myself. I learned to eat with a prosthetic spoon, and then with a knife and fork. It gave me a huge sense of accomplishment.
My darkest moment came when I was ten. My family had moved from Indiana to Georgia. In Indiana, friends treated me as though I were normal. But in Georgia, it was different. I felt very aware of my disability. I worried I’d have to live at home forever. I thought I could never have a girlfriend or wife. I felt hopeless about the future.
I felt very aware of my disability.
My world changed when I got into sports. I started playing football. Everything came together when I made my first tackle at age eleven. It was my first real dose of achievement. That tackle didn’t solve everything, but it loosened the grip that hopelessness had on me.
Everyone I played against was able-bodied. At first, I struggled. But I threw everything I had into learning to be an invincible defensive lineman. I turned my lack of height into a weapon. I made sure that offensive linemen had a hard time getting low enough to block me.
Then I decided to start wrestling. I began by losing thirty-five consecutive matches. I wanted to quit. My opponents could beat me by simply holding down my head to keep me from reaching them.
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But then I had a breakthrough. I had an amazing coach who helped me invent moves that took advantage of my strength. My different body type was a psychological advantage—opponents didn’t know how to handle it. I eventually finished twelfth in the 103-pound weight class in the National High School Wrestling Championships.
My grandmother also played a huge role in making me the person I am today. She told me once that when I shake someone’s hand, my disability goes away. I’ve never forgotten that. She passed away in 2015, but I still draw on the lessons she taught me. I often travel and give motivational talks, and sharing my grandmother’s wisdom with others is how I keep her spirit alive.
But the 5 percent of the climb that didn’t suck was amazing.
It’s not always fun to do the things I’m passionate about. For instance, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro mostly sucked. All I could see was the dirt in front of me. But the 5 percent of the climb that didn’t suck was amazing.
I have a thought experiment that keeps me going in the face of obstacles. Instead of thinking about the ultimate goal, I focus on the immediate future. When I’m climbing a mountain, I’m down on all fours looking at the ground. It’s not going to do me any good to look up at the summit.
I just figure out how to do the best I can with the next few feet in front of me.
Despite being born with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees, Kyle Maynard is an entrepreneur, speaker, bestselling author, award-winning extreme athlete, and the first man to bearcrawl to the summits of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft) and Mount Aconcagua (22,841 ft).
Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy