Kyle Maynard has achieved some amazing milestones during his 31 years on the planet. He has stood atop the highest summits in Africa and South America, competed in the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships, reigned as a champion wrestler and fought in the Octagon of Mixed Martial Arts. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author.
What’s really impressive about all he has accomplished is that Maynard was born with a rare condition that left him with arms that end at his elbows, and legs that end near his knees. To climb, he must scramble over each rock less than two feet off the ground using all four of his limbs with his face just feet from the dirt. He describes it as “Bear Climbing.” It’s a painful process that sees him take hours to cover turf that others can cross in minutes. But he has never let that, or anything else, hold him back. We caught up with Maynard in between trips to talk.
How did you prepare to climb Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua?
The biggest obstacle was finding a group of people willing to climb with me. I am not that fast. Once we had a group, then we needed to design gear. There was none that would work for me. Not having hands and feet makes climbing a bit more complicated. In the beginning we were taping towels, potholders and MTB tires over my arms and legs—that was painful. Over time, we developed carbon fiber custom boots and a system of gear that would work for me to bear crawl upwards.
What was the hardest aspect of the climbs for you?
The long days. I would be bear crawling seven to eight hours per day; it was so hard on my body. My arms were destroyed, my legs were shaking, and I would struggle to keep moving forward. On summit day on Aconcagua I was on the move for 14 hours.
Did you ever think about giving up?
Always. I used to think about it all the time…but then I would realize I am not giving in to that thought. I will not give up. I would just shake it off and keep crawling. The key is to let that thought go when it pops into your head and focus on the next one that arises. Hopefully it’s the one that tells you to keep moving. If not, you are in trouble.
How often do you wonder, “why me”?
Not near as much these days as I did when I was younger. My parents used to tell me that we all have something to deal with, it’s just that 99.9 percent of the time you can’t see it in others. My issues just happen to be quite visible. I try to live so that the circumstances are not dictating the quality of my life, but instead my mindset is in charge.
Would you change anything if you could?
No, not at all. I consider [my disability] the greatest gift I have ever been given. It has made me the man that I am. It’s kind of irrelevant to think about going back and changing things, because I can’t. I would rather focus on what I can change right now, what I can help others with, not what could have been.
How do you deal with fear?
I spent the better part of my twenties trying to understand fear. What I found is that it will never fully go away if we are doing things that cause us to grow and expand. Fear comes when you are pushing the boundaries, when you are growing. Fear keeps us sharp, it makes us better. I embrace fear.
As someone who heard the word “no” a lot growing up, how do you deal with it now?
I spend a lot less time listening to people telling me I can’t do something now than I did in the past. It took me two-years to get approved to do a MMA fight. People would tell me my story was inspiring, and then tell me no, I could not fight. I would get hurt, I was not equipped to go in the ring, I was a liability. (Fighters said more visceral things than just I’d get hurt.) I ignored them and kept on overcoming their objections to get to my dream. That’s how it’s always been.
What would you tell someone who says they can’t chase their dream?
Get up off your ass and do something. Figure out what you actually want in life and go after it. It might be hard to get there, but you can. The only thing stopping you is yourself.
What other advice do you have for us mere mortals?
Live a life of meaning. You have to ask yourself what are you doing to make others’ lives better? You are only here for a short time, so strive to improve the world. That’s how we can enact real change.