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The 700 Club

Man With No Limbs Climbs Tallest Mountain in Africa

Kyle Maynard is tough.  Real tough.  He’s a champion wrestler.  He’s studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  He can even bench 420 pounds.  And every day, he conquers the impossible.

Not bad for a guy born without arms or legs.

“My parents had a normal pregnancy,” Kyle remembers.  “They saw the ultrasounds and the doctors thought there was nothing out of the ordinary.  And so my parents really had no idea that I was going to be born different, until I was.”

See, Kyle was born with a rare condition called “congenital amputation”, which causes a limb or appendage to fail to develop within the womb.  When it’s present, it usually only affects a finger or a toe.  For someone to be born without any arms or legs is virtually unheard of.  So when Kyle was born, his parents were shocked to say the least.

“What really blows me away are the decisions that my mom and dad made when they were young,” Kyle says.  “My mom was more of the nurturing type who wanted to help me figure out how to do things and didn’t want to see me struggle.  My dad realized that by helping me do everything, it probably wasn’t going to be the best solution to the problem.”

Kyle’s father realized that there was going to be a time where he wasn’t going to be there to help his son, so he wanted to train him to do the basics.  Step one:  learn how to use a spoon.

Or as Kyle put it, “[he said] I gotta figure out how I’m going to eat.  Or I’m going to starve.”

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy, but Kyle learned the basics.  Soon, he wasn’t just able to do the things others could do, he was doing them better.

“My mom tells the story about when I got in the closet and ripped all the clothes off the rack.  And she was partially a little ticked off at me, but partially like, ‘wow, this is cool, like, you know, you did that’,” Kyle said.

By the time he reached Middle School, Kyle wanted to take it up a notch.  One day, he told his mom he wanted to go out for the football team.  His mom called the coach... And the coach said “sure”.

“So I was a nose guard, playing in the middle.  I thought I was going to be the quarterback, but that’s a whole other story,” Kyle joked.  “And I remember the very first football game I played in one of the first plays that they ran was coming up, right up the middle.  And I remember in that moment it was like I had found an 11-year-old’s version of purpose and life.”

At the time, Kyle was just a sixth grade kid who had to work twice as hard to get half as far.  His parents, who were Christians, had assured him that there was a grand plan for his life.  At this point, Kyle understood.  So he made this his goal: see the impossible.  Beat the impossible.

“I definitely was at a pretty big depth of despair at that age,” he said.  “I was definitely at a point where I’d lost a lot of hope and just didn’t see a reason to go on.  And I really think that making my first tackle in football is might have been what saved my life.”

That moment fueled a competitive nature inside Kyle.  So after football, he took up wrestling.  After a slow start, he was winning matches.  And it wasn’t before long that the “no-legged man winning butt-kicking contests” became a media sensation.  He wrote a book called No Excuses.  He became a popular motivational speaker, and made dozens of TV appearances.  But before long, Kyle considered doing something he never really had done before: quit.

“I put on like 25, 30 pounds in like a three or four month book tour,” he said.  “I was alone, a lot.  I’d be traveling, I’d be in a hotel room by myself, you know, and I was 19, 20 years old and speaking at senators and Presidents, and it’s like, who am I to go and tell you guys how to run your business?”

Around this time, Kyle came up with a nickname for himself: the depressed motivational speaker.

“I did not feel like authentic with the message that I was sharing,” he said.  “I didn’t feel like I was actually living the message I was talking about.”

And then came a turning point: a chance meeting with a Gold Star mother, who told Kyle that her son had always wanted to travel and see Mt. Kilimanjaro.  And soon, Kyle had a new challenge.

“I told my friend, ‘I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” he said.  “And she was like, ‘you’re crazy.  How do you think you’re going to go and do Kilimanjaro?’  And I told her, ‘I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out’.”

Now, lest you think that Kilimanjaro is a walk in the park, here’s what climbers have to face: five ecological zones, with temperatures ranging from 80 degrees at the base to -15 at the top.   Still, Kyle wouldn’t back down.

“I’ve got some really amazing people in my life that I’ve been so fortunate to have so when I say something crazy like that, instead of them telling me, ‘oh, you’re crazy, you’re not going to be able to do it,’ most of them are like ‘wow, that’s cool.  How can I help?’” he said.  “I’ve got friends that made my gear out of duct tape and wrapped bath towels on the ends of my arms and feet.  I couldn’t just go to like the hiking store and get a pair of hiking boots.  We had to come up with a whole new system.”

Now, there are risks to the climb.  The higher you go, the less oxygen there is to breathe.  The colder it gets, the greater the risk for frostbite.  Not to mention the dust.  Or dry rocks.  Kyle was going to deal with this for thirty miles, crawling every inch of the way.

“Most times, my face is in the dirt, six inches off the ground,” he said.  “Nobody really told me that I shouldn’t bear crawl on my elbows and knees for 30 miles before I went...  My shoulders and back and hip were shot.  My arms like the swelling was really intense.  So it’s total dichotomy of going on of like, some moments of just intense suffering, like, ‘why am I here?  Why did I do this?’ to other moments of like “wow, this is really cool, this is really beautiful,’ and connecting to that reason of just why I was there in the first place.”

After a grueling journey, Kyle was near the top.  But the important thing wasn’t just how much farther to the summit, it was how far he’d already come.

“I’m sitting on ice, and I’m looking back and I can see the entire trail we’d come up.  And it was the wildest thing to go and see the trail just went on and on forever out of sight,” he said.  “And it was like, ‘holy cow!  We actually went that far.’  It’s amazing.”

19,000 feet in the air, at the highest point in Africa, Kyle Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to summit Kilimanjaro.  Once again, he beat the impossible.

“I held it together at the top until i called my mom.  And I heard my mom’s voice on the SAT phone and she started crying, and I just broke,” he said.  “And then I got to pay tribute to a fallen soldier.  In those moments where I was feeling sorry for myself and ready to quit, a lot of it was thinking, ‘Cory’s never’s going to get the chance to be here and go climb this moment.’  I felt him there, in those tough moments, and it kept me going.  So getting to go and leave Cory’s ashes on the summit was absolutely...the greatest honor of my life.”

Kyle returned home and earned an ESPY award for his efforts.  He also came back with a different perspective.  Today, he’s not just working to conquer the impossible, he’s helping others do the same.

“And I’ve learned whatever gifts we’ve been given, we’ve gotta go and share it.  And sometimes that means doing things that are uncomfortable, that every fiber in your body doesn’t want you to do.  And you gotta do it anyway,” he said.

“When i was younger, I did pray a lot that Iwould just like wake up and have arms and legs,” he added.  “Now, I think those prayers have been answered in a totally different way, in a way that I could never have imagined before.  It’s come in the form of the learning that I’ve gotten to have, and that can transcend into anything.  Now, there’s nothing in the world that you could offer me to have me live my life again differently...  I feel like it’s the biggest blessing i’ve ever received being born the way I was.”

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