MMA's Kyle Maynard: The Little Engine That Could

Jordan KatzCorrespondent IApril 24, 2009

HOLLYWOOD - JULY 14:  Wrestler Kyle Maynard attends the 12th Annual ESPY Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on July 14, 2004 in Hollywood, California.  This year's ESPY's will air Sunday, July 16th on ESPN beginning 9 PM EST/6 PM EST.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

You remember the famous childhood book, “The Little Engine That Could”? You know the story about the rundown, old, and small little train that managed to show his newer more savvy competitors that he could still compete at a high level.

That little train never gave up: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...”


Kyle Maynard never gives up either.


Born with a condition called congenital amputation, which left him with no limbs below his elbows or thighs, Maynard has been defying the odds his entire life.


Because of his disability, Maynard was constantly told what he could and could not do. He was forced to endure the shame of being mocked for his condition, but worse, told he couldn’t participate in his true passion—sports.


At an early age, Maynard developed an innate love for competitive athletics, specifically wrestling. However, due to his condition, it was difficult for him to find a person willing to train him. Yet, he was undeterred and by sheer tenacity of purpose, found a coach and realized a dream.


Although thrilled to finally be participating in athletics, his void for competition had not been filled. So, in high school he joined the varsity wrestling team, graduating with a solid record and the respect of an entire community.


His successes and perseverance on the wrestling mat garnered national attention. Maynard’s hard work and achievements were chronicled by the national media, and through motivational speaking and an autobiography, he became somewhat of a celebrity.


Yet despite his successes, the need for a physical challenge gnawed at him, and that void began to increase. In 2004, Maynard received a phone call from MMA legend Randy Couture. Having heard his story and impressed with his will, Couture invited him to attend a UFC event. That one event was all it took to spawn a new direction in Maynard’s life.


Maynard immediately latched onto MMA, enthralled with the sport as so many have become. He began studying the sport, and after truly appreciating the craftsmanship involved in it, he started actively pursuing training opportunities.


"The Little Engine" had started to rev, and nothing was going to get in his way. What started with grappling transitioned into jiu-jitsu and striking. Initially a hobby, MMA was becoming a way of life. Onlookers admired his dedication, MMA constituents respected his heart, but nobody believed he could actually compete, and so they told him what he could and could not do.


“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...”


Critics be damned, rules be ignored. Maynard knew he wanted to compete, but more importantly, he knew he could compete—and nobody was going to tell him otherwise.


In what would be an ongoing battle that would last years, Maynard fought, appealed, and fought some more in hopes of getting sanctioned by an athletic commission. Finally, he won. After testimonials from veteran trainers, ringside physicians, and video clips of his extensive training, Maynard received word that he would be allowed to fight.


Maynard adjusts his positioning on the bench press. He leans forward, delicately balancing the thick dumbbell right on his lower shoulders. His brow furrows, and he grimaces slightly as he exerts tremendous force, but manages to lift the weight.


Training for this fight has not been easy, but it pales in comparison to the daily struggles he has faced his entire life.


Winning would be nice, and losing would be difficult, but merely competing is what drives Maynard. For somebody who has been told his entire life what he couldn’t do, this is a testament to the fact that Maynard decides what he is capable of doing and nobody else.


Much controversy has been sparked over Maynard’s upcoming fight. Many pundits believe it gives the sport a black eye. Others feel it's not a matter of perceptions, but an issue of safety. There are legitimate concerns regarding Maynard’s well-being.


Should he be allowed to fight? Maybe, maybe not. But I dare to you tell him that he can’t, because my guess is, he will tell you that he can.