Heart of a Champion: The Unbelievable Story of Kyle Maynard

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIApril 10, 2009

I have always had a special place in my heart for athletes who overcome specific obstacles on the path to greatness.

Jim Abbott, who was born with one hand and pitched a no-hitter in the major leagues.

Rocky Bleier, who won four Super Bowls as a running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a life-threatening injury in the Vietnam War.

Lance Armstrong, who overcame a two percent chance of beating testicular cancer to win seven consecutive Tour De France titles.

And then there's a guy like Kyle Maynard.

Kyle Maynard was born on March 24, 1986, in Suwanee, Georgia with a rare disorder called congenital amputation. Kyle's condition essentially means that his arms end at his elbows and his legs end at his knees. He has no hands. He has no feet.

When Kyle's parents first found out that their son might have physical disabilities, their nurse suggested that they have an abortion. Kyle's parents stated that an abortion was not an option for them and they would not even consider it.

The first year of Kyle's life progressed in the same way as a normal child, even given his physical differences. However, after the age of one, Kyle's life began to change drastically.

He couldn't keep up with the other children his age. He couldn't stand or walk, or use his hands. He had to be fed at every meal. This went on for a few years, until one day Kyle's father announced that the family would no longer help feed Kyle.

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Kyle would need to learn how to feed himself. Kyle's father's reasoning was simple; he knew that one day his son would live on his own, and he would need to know how to take care of himself.

So Kyle learned how to eat, using a prosthetic spoon, and eventually regular silverware.

Kyle recalls his experiences with his grandmother as some of the most helpful during his childhood: "She took me everywhere and taught me a great deal about life, lessons that I have carried now for 19 years."

Kyle's grandmother and parents made sure to treat him like any other child. They took him to the playground and let him cook dinner, but Kyle's favorites memories as a child were with the kids in the neighborhood.

"My childhood friends treated me in the simple, straightforward ways that good kids do. They accepted me. We played capture the flag and cops and robbers. We played video games. It was all kinds of fun."

In fifth grade, Kyle remembers talking with all of his friends about his favorite players and teams, and the game the night before. He would join in on the conversations—until his friends started talking about the sports that they played on teams.

Kyle dreamed about being a professional athlete: "I imagined myself being the savior of the championship game by catching a last-second touchdown pass or scoring a game-winning basket. I wanted to be the quarterback on the football team who dated the cutest cheerleader. You know, like every other kid."

Kyle persuaded his mother to let him play organized football for the first time that fall. His mother was reluctant at first, but Kyle begged to be given the opportunity to play a real sport on a real team. As he remembers: "No obstacle would keep me from accomplishing my dreams."

Kyle recalls the humiliation of being surrounded by high school football players in the weight room. As a 60-pound sixth grader, Kyle began his training by lifting two and a half pounds with each arm.

His primary focus in the weight room was to strengthen his shoulder muscles, which is "the reason why I haven't suffered a serious injury in my wrestling and weightlifting career."

Kyle played nose tackle on the football team. Because he weighed less than half as much as some of the offensive linemen, he patented such moves like the "butt roll."

He also took advantage of his height, or lack thereof, noting that no offensive player could get as low to block him as he already was.

Although he wasn't a starter, Kyle didn't make any excuses. "I didn't quit or give up. I met the adversity with a full head of steam. I wanted to change the way players and coaches saw me—not as a disabled player, but as a defensive linemen who could inflict more damage than anyone else had before."

During the season, CNN decided to do a live interview with Kyle, following the last football game of the season. The interview garnered so much attention that the public relations director of the Atlanta Falcons' invited Kyle and his entire family to the locker room before a game to meet his team.

Kyle recalls the experience as one of the most thrilling of his life.

After the football season ended, Kyle decided to take up wrestling, just to stay in shape for football. Little did he know it would change his life.

Kyle recalls entering his first wrestling practice excited about the possibility of "jumping off the top ring and bodyslamming my opponents' into the ground." However, he soon learned that real wrestling is much different to the wrestling seen on TV.

Kyle's coach—Coach Ramos—is the man Kyle credits with helping him more than just about anybody else. "From the beginning, he willingly devoted himself to helping me succeed. I look up to him because I believe wrestling has forged him into a man of strength and fortitude in life, not just in this sport."

After Kyle lost his first match, his coach invented another move to use, which he called the "Kelly."

This move was similar to how firemen carry unconscious victims. The move worked, but only a little. Kyle finished his first year without a victory. He remembers wanting to quit, but only staying with the team because his father reassured Kyle that he also hadn't won a single match in his first year.

It was only while Kyle was writing his autobiography that he learned that his father had lied just to motivate his son—and it worked. Kyle calls his decision to continue wrestling in seventh grade the best decision of his life.

After 35 consecutive losses to begin his wrestling career, Kyle Maynard finally emerged as a champion, halfway through his seventh grade year.

On this one day, an animal was unleashed and a legend was born.

Over the years, Kyle learned that his different body type could be used as a psychological advantage to beat opponents.

Along with the help of his coach, Kyle created several unusual techniques to defeat his opponent, such as the "jawbreaker" and the "buzz saw." He even created a move called the "rope-a-dope," a move used by famous boxer Muhammad Ali in the 1970s that he adjusted to fit the sport of wrestling.

Kyle continued wrestling all throughout his years in school. He finished his high school career with 35 victories and only 16 losses. He even finished 12th in the 103-pound weight class at the National High School Wrestling Championships.

Kyle, who earned a 3.7 GPA during high school, attended Georgia University, where he continued his wrestling career.

He is now a conscientious public speaker, addressing everyone from Midwestern high schoolers to South Florida senior citizens, preaching his "pursuit of normalcy."

He even wrote a book titled "No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life."

In 2004, Kyle earned the ESPY award for Best Athlete With a Disability. He earned a Courage Award from the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

In 2005, Kyle broke the world record in the modified bench press by lifting 360 pounds. He is currently training in mixed martial arts.

Through wrestling, Kyle learned the importance of staying optimistic, no matter the odds or the enemy.

"I am an athlete driven by competition. Without the sport of wrestling, I would not be where I am today. There are so many problems and difficulties that I will never have to endure because of the character I've developed through wrestling.

"It is my discipline and my passion. I will never come into a match unprepared and in a worse cardiovascular condition than the kid I'm up against, because that is an advantage I can't afford to give up."

When asked how he is able to overcome such a severe disability that requires him to run on all fours like an animal, Kyle responded: "I believe God made me the way I am in order to show people that there is no amount of adversity that a single person cannot overcome if they trust in themselves and trust in the will of Jesus Christ.

"And in time, I learned that I had to trust and believe in myself on the mat, and, even more importantly, I learned that I had to trust fully in the Lord my Savior, no matter the circumstances."

Kyle Maynard is one of the most inspiring athletes in history. He may have no hands, he may have no feet, but what he does have is the heart of a champion.

Maynard's story is not just one of an athlete fighting against all odds to emerge a winner. It's the story of an ordinary human succeeding against odds that the average human being can't even comprehend.

Source: No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and Life

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