Telling Culver students they must “find your why,” speaker Kyle Maynard told of his triumphs and struggles as he continues the pursuit of his passions. Because answering the “why” allows a person to live their life with purpose and passion, he said.
Maynard spent Wednesday meeting and talking with students and faculty members before addressing the student body as the featured Class of ’62 Student Enrichment Series speaker. Born 30 years ago with congenital amputation, Maynard said professionals told his parents that he would be dependent on others for his entire life. But, instead of giving in, his parents pushed him to become as independent as possible.
That push led Maynard to play football, becoming a nationally ranked high school wrestler, compete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and become record-setting weightlifter. He is the first amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without the use of prosthetics – bear crawling 19,340 feet to the summit. And he recently climbed the highest peak (22,838 feet) outside of the Himalayas, Aconcagua in the Andes Mountains of Argentina.
In 2005, while a student at the University of Georgia, he wrote a book titled No Excuses, which peaked on the New York Times best seller list at No. 12. Maynard knows, though, all his successes weren’t accomplished alone.
What big excuse is keeping you from being your best self – from reaching your highest potential?
He told a class earlier in the day that his mother “pulled the ultimate Jedi mind trick,” simply telling him he wasn’t disabled. “And I said ‘OK.’”
That led to him learning how to eat (“I dropped my spoon a thousand times learning how to do it.”), type on a computer keyboard, text on a smart phone, and drive an adapted car. He added he enjoys watching the reactions of employees when he pulls up to the drive-through window.
His grandmother told him to make sure when people meet him that they “hear your voice, see your face, and shake your hand” so they would see him instead of his disabilities. They would go through the grocery store for practice when he was young, Maynard said, and it has proved to be invaluable to this day.
“Circumstances do not define your life,” he said. “It’s how you deal with those circumstances that defines your life. What big excuse is keeping you from being your best self – from reaching your highest potential?
“Think what would be possible if everyone in this room gave up your biggest excuse,” he added.
For Maynard, most of his “big excuses” have not been physical, but psychological and emotional. When he was 10 years old, his family moved from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Georgia. He left his friends, changed schools, and fell into depression. As with many 10-year-olds, he worried about his future: whether he would ever have a girlfriend, a wife, and family. It lasted until his father signed him up to play in a junior football league at age 11.
“My life had purpose,” Maynard said. He thought he might be the star quarterback, lofting touchdown passes. His coach made him a nose tackle. Lining up across from the center, he would follow the ball. His first play from scrimmage ended in a quarterback sack. His tackling technique was simply hitting people in the leg with his helmet, grabbing the runner by the leg, and “hanging on for dear life.”
Your life has to have purpose, he said. It is the reason why you care enough to pursue your goals. But you can’t be “one foot in and one foot out” when it comes to pursuing it. After writing his book, he did a promotional tour. While he was a success, appearing on the Larry King and Oprah Winfrey shows, he kept making excuses for not working out. Soon he was falling into another depression.
“A motivational speaker who is depressed is not a very good combination,” he said. His depression came from not committing to his passion. He needed to recommit himself to his physical fitness. That eventually led to finding his passion for climbing mountains.
Maynard admitted climbing is no fun “95 percent of the time.” Since he has to bear crawl, he spends most of the climb “looking at rocks, dirt, and bugs. And after 14,000 feet, there are no bugs.” But it the other 5 percent – including what it means to others, like the wounded veterans he dedicates his climbs to – that make it worthwhile.
Maynard needs that “uncomfortable” feeling that comes with exploring how far he can push himself. “It’s where the juice of life comes from,” he said. “Life is about constant learning, constant growth.”
What prevents people from living “the life well-lived” usually lies “between your ears,” he explained. That negative thinking, your “big excuse,” is preventing you from living a “real and authentic life.”