The Good Word
By Matt Winkeljohn
Kyle Maynard’s qualifications were clear Monday evening before he even spoke to Georgia Tech student-athletes about overcoming obstacles off all kinds. A pre-speech video on the McCamish Pavilion scoreboard showed him becoming the first quadruple amputee to climb Mt. Kilamanjaro without prosthetics.
Once the keynote speaker for Tech’s Total Person Program began talking to 100 or more Yellow Jackets, however, Maynard made it clear that the hurdles people face in life are not always obvious and anyone can meet a crisis of confidence — even motivational speakers.
After growing up in Gwinnett County and briefly attending the University of Georgia, Maynard, 30, became an author, inspirational speaker and entrepreneur.
His book, “No Excuses,” brought considerable fame and appearances on the Oprah and Larry King shows. Maynard’s even dabbled in mixed martial arts.
None of this means he’s always on top of the world.
After a few years on the road as a speaker, he was rundown by routine, began skipping workouts and gained weight. “I remember feeling, `How do I have any right to tell you how to live your life?’ and moments of almost feeling like a fraud,” he recalled.
“I would call my mom and just complain. I was contemplating going back to school . . . and I realized I had kind of one foot in and one foot out. It really was impacting me . . . it’s not a very effective combination to have a motivational speaker show up depressed.”
Following serious self inspection, Maynard got back in the gym and jumped all the way into his business. Sometimes, working is really hard. It’s always essential.
“There are many days when I don’t feel motivated myself,” he said. “A big part of life is showing up when you don’t want to, and doing it when you’re exhausted, tired or sick, hungry or whatever . . . not feeling it and you do it anyway. Those are opportunities for growth.”
College takes a lot of work, especially at Tech, and Director of Total Person Support Services Leah Thomas had that in mind when she booked Maynard.
“When I focus on spending money and bringing in a speaker I want it to be an inspiring speaker because we do a lot of very specific programming like financial literacy, which we did a couple weeks ago, and the sexual violence prevention training,” Thomas explained.
“We have a lot of on-campus resources to touch on those things and they’re not overpowering, amazing stories so when I bring in somebody once a semester who we call our keynote speaker, I want it to be an inspiring story.”
Maynard, who now lives in San Diego, has found a variety of ways to conquer challenges over the years, and it began when he was a child. Born without arms or legs, he wanted to play football when he was 10.
His parents weren’t about making excuses for him. “They made a decision early on which made a huge difference in my life to not, to whatever extent possible, treat me different than any other kid,” he said.
So he played.
The video showed photos of him playing youth football and wrestling and lifting weights in high school. He demonstrated for Tech student-athletes what he called “bear crawling” by scurrying about on all four limb stumps.
In his first scrimmage, Maynard was stationed at nose guard, “with no idea what that was, lined up right across from the center . . . my very first play he snapped the ball and just stood straight up so I just dove under his legs and smashed into the quarterback’s leg and got a sack.”
After opening up a CrossFit gym in Suwannee eight years ago, he began competing in the sport. Ultimately, in 2010 there came a race up Stone Mountain. That was his first big climb.
“It took me an hour and 46 minutes,” Maynard said. “It took my friends 20 or 25 minutes. It tore all the skin off my arms.”
He kept climbing, though, and in January 2012 reached the summit of Kilamanjaro. Miserable much of the way, he preserved and set a record.
“When you hear a story about a life that met so much struggle and [so many] obstacles . . . it feels like he won,” said freshman tennis player Luca Fabian. “I feel very motivated because now you feel like you can do anything. It gives you strength, and you know you can’t give up.”
Maynard hasn’t let circumstances write his life story. He’s scripting it himself, and told Tech student-athletes they too can be authors. Perseverance is key.
“It is not the events of a life or the challenges that we’ll face that define us. It is how we go respond,” he said. “That’s a muscle that you can help just like you do in training. Inevitably, you’re going to hit challenges along the way . . . you’re a creator of your own life. Maybe not everything is possible, but a whole lot is.”
As student-athletes grind their way into the second half of the semester, Maynard offered a message of strength.
“It’s a good story to remind them of how lucky we are and how many opportunities they have, that there are many people who thrive with many obstacles,” Thomas said. “I feel like mid-semester is a good time to be rejuvenated. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”