Despite birth defects, author and speaker found no excuses

From the day he came into the world, Kyle Maynard has had built-in excuses. He chooses not to use any of them.

Maynard, born with only stumps for arms and legs, competed in football and wrestling as a teen and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on his own power. He’ll be in Baton Rouge on March 27 to support Hope Ministries’ efforts to help people overcome their less obvious problems.

“They help people with disabilities that you might not necessarily be able to see on the outside,” said Maynard, who turns 28 three days before speaking at the Power of Hope dinner. “I think a lot of times with homelessness, there is a perception that people say, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ They don’t necessarily see some of that inner struggle. … It’s easy for us to be judgmental and look at someone else and say, ‘They have nothing wrong with them.’”

That was never an issue for Maynard.

A condition known as congenital amputation meant Scott and Anita Maynard’s first child would have considerable challenges. His parents decided to make sure he would be as independent as possible.

“What they were told was I would need assistance with everything, and what they did was very different,” Maynard said. “What they did was empower me to go and figure out how to do things on my own. They basically treated me the same way they treated my sisters. There were some things they would help me with, but there would come a time where I had to figure out how to do it on my own.

“Even something like learning how to eat, learning how to dress myself, learning how to write, learning how to type on a computer, how to drive — all of that stuff really kind of evolved as a consequence of them encouraging me just to figure it out without a lot of adaptations. I used to wear prosthetics when I was younger, but I kind of abandoned them when I was around 5 years old.”

Starting in kindergarten, Maynard attended school with able-bodied classmates. When teachers told him he’d have more time to finish assignments, he strove to keep the same pace as the others. He played nose guard on his youth football team, using knee pads for shoes and trying to launch himself into running backs’ shins to tackle them.

In sixth grade, he also joined the wrestling team and lost every match. He thought about quitting the sport in seventh grade, but his parents persuaded him to keep going. Maynard finally won a match when he found a move that allowed him to pin an opponent.

“It was a big, life-changing, confidence-building moment,” he said. “I realized, ‘Wow, I can do this!’

“When I got the first takedown and I was on top, my opponent, the reaction I sensed from him was he was way more shocked than me, and I was pretty surprised. I think everybody was pretty surprised. My dad was going nuts.”

Maynard became more successful as he aged. Since wrestling is divided by weight classes, Maynard’s torso was larger than opponents’ whose weight included full arms and legs, and he used that strength to his advantage. Without hands to grasp, he would clutch a foe’s arm or leg in his armpit and squeeze it against his chest. In his senior year, he won 36 varsity matches.

Along the way, Maynard began believing he could do almost anything he wanted to do. As a freshman at the University of Georgia, he wrote a book about his story, “No Excuses,” and that led to the motivational speaking career he now pursues.

But Maynard, who had achieved success as a weight lifter and CrossFit instructor, also started a fitness training business out of his gym that has grown to a 11,000-square-foot facility that employs 10 trainers.

One of his biggest hurdles was social.

In high school, Maynard had a lot of female friends, but wasn’t confident enough to date. That changed in college, and he recently moved from Atlanta to San Diego to be near his girlfriend, Dr. Lauren Noel, a doctor of natural medicine.

“I think now I would say if given the choice to go back and do it again with arms and legs, there’s no way I would take that,” he said. “I think it’s really been a huge gift in the sense that this has given me this platform and work with organizations like Hope Ministries. Hopefully, my story, metaphorically, people can apply it to their own lives and can make some small difference there.”

All proceeds from the event and the associated sales of Maynard’s book benefit Hope Ministries, a nonprofit agency whose mission is to prevent homelessness and promote self sufficiency and dignity.