Published Date Written by Jim Lewis
Born without arms and legs, Kyle Maynard can do anything you do. He brushes his teeth with a regular toothbrush. Shaves with a regular razor. Writes with a regular pen. Types e-mails on a regular computer keyboard.
His car, an Acura, is the only place where special accommodations are made for him – the gas and brake pedals are raised toward the driver’s seat so he can reach them. Otherwise, he drives, like you do – with passengers who, he jokingly admits, “get scared when I answer my iPhone when I’m driving.’’ In fact, his physical accomplishments would astound you. A wrestler and weightlifter, the 29-year-old Maynard climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2012 – without the use of prosthetics. He tossed aside synthetic arms and legs while still a child.
Now a motivational speaker and New York Times best-selling author, he discarded a wheelchair he uses at the bottom of a two-tiered stage in Penn State Harrisburg’s Capital Union Building on Wednesday, April 15 and crawled up to a chair before a large crowd of at least 300 people, who were prepared to be awed by a speech on his seemingly super-human accomplishments. Instead, he told them about his failures.
How, at the age of 15, he struggled for a half hour to put on a sock for the first time. How he lost every wrestling match he entered when he first took up the sport. How he cried in his tent part way up Kilimanjaro, his body aching from his climb.
How, as a child, he sometimes prayed to God, begging for arms and legs like yours.
Behind the accomplishments are “a lot of failure,’’ Maynard told the crowd. Then he told them why he decided he would not let failure stop him – because “we want to live a life we’re capable of living.’’ “It has nothing to do with physical ability – I mean, a little bit – but everything to do with your mindset,’’ he said.
“If you have a big enough purpose, a big enough context of your life existence, all of that will fade away. If you really believe in yourself, you’re going to look for all that evidence why you are going to succeed.’’ To Maynard, success depends on “how we think about a situation – are we making excuses about it it? Are we becoming a victim to it? Are we procrastinating?
“There’s not top to that mountain," he said of making excuses. “We could be on that climb the rest of our lives."
Instead, Maynard hoped to convince the audience to drop their “baggage’’ and go for the life they want.
“I guarantee there are people in this room who are capable of changing this planet in a way I can hardly imagine,’’ he told the crowd. “It’s just a choice – and sometimes making choices to do big things is scary."
For Emaan Agha, a humanities major at Penn State Harrisburg, the chance to meet Maynard was a dream come true. A native of Pakistan, where women and members of the lower social castes often don’t get the same opportunities as males in the higher social classes, Agha first learned about Maynard’s mountain climb in school. The teacher’s intended message – you can accomplish anything you want.
When she heard he was coming to Middletown, “I was over the moon.’’ She was the first in line to greet Maynard after his speech, and posed for a cell phone selfie with him.
“He showed us that if you push for something hard enough, you get it,’’ Agha said.
For Zack Ottobre, a member of the university’s baseball team, the speech gave him “a different outlook on life, and definitely on the field."
“It makes me want to work harder when I take the field," he said.