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Living a Life of 'No Excuses': Interview with climber, author Kyle Maynard


With *No Barriers Summit coming to Telluride in August, Visit Telluride had the wonderful opportunity to interview climber, author and adventurer Kyle Maynard—a congenital amputee—and discuss his motivation as an athlete, as well as how No Barriers has changed his life. Maynard, who successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in January 2012, has quite a story to tell, a story that has been covered on Larry King Live, Oprah and many other news outlets. The ESPY winner shared his thoughts with us last week.

Name: Kyle Maynard

Age: 26

Occupation: Motivational speaker, author and owner/trainer of No Excuses Crossfit gym in Suwanee, GA. 

Accomplishments: Author of the New York Times best seller "No Excuses," first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without assistance,  2004 ESPY-Best Disabled Athlete, 2012 ESPY-Male Athelete with a Disability, National Wrestling HAll of Fame, GNC's Worlds Strongest Teen, Presidents Award for the Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, U.S. Jaycees Top Ten Outstanding Young Americans, to name a few. 

When did you start getting involved with No Barriers:

I've known **Erik's story for a long time, obviously being a disabled athlete as well, he is a huge icon in the community. I went out to the No Barrier's Summit in Winter Park in 2011, and was really blown away with some of the stuff they were able to come up with in terms of getting people outdoors and active. No matter what the challenge was, they were willing to do it (the activity). With the kind of drive and ingenuity of the people who were there, they figured out how to do just about anything. 

Tell us about your first experience with No Barriers:

I came to the Summit to learn more about Erik and who he was in regards to the mountaineering world because I had an upcoming trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. With that goal in mind, we networked and brainstormed with the right people to figure out how I would be able to make the climb. It was through Erik and the Summit that I was able to meet my eventual guide for the Kilimanjaro trip. His name was Kevin Sherilla, and he had been Erik's base camp manager on his Everest climb.

Everything really started there. It all originated from the conversations I was having at No Barriers. That was the original reason for me coming to the Summit, but then my eyes were opened up to many other things, like adaptive kayaking and a bunch of other really amazing adaptive activities.  

Talk to us about your accomplishments. What makes you want to develop new goals and experiences?

I think more often than not we can get wrapped-up in creating a sense of self-identity associated with a laundry list of accomplishments. To me, it's more about where I get to go, and what I get to do in terms of being a speaker. It’s about getting to reach the kids I speak to and plant a sense of purpose and drive in them, while removing the idea of creating excuses. That has really become my biggest calling. 

Addressing the speaking side of your career, what do you focus your message to the audience on? What do you hope is their take-away?

A speech is only as good as what you can learn and take away from it. My challenge to people when I speak to them is to think about that one thing in their life that is keeping them from reaching their highest human potential, and what would happen in their life if they changed that. If that person took the next three months to go and battle that wall, how different would their life look? And, it's not just what would they do if they could make that change, but why? That “why”, to me, is our deepest source of our own self-inspiration. It allows us to be able to make those things happen.

For instance, we have all wanted to lose 10 pounds at one point or another. You have to ask yourself “Why?”. It shouldn’t just be because you want to look good, it should be because you want to be able to see your kids and grandkids grow-up. Or it could be because you want to be able to go experience the world and the possibilities the change would allow. What is standing in your way, and why would you do anything to overcome it? 

What is the 'why' within the things that you have accomplished?

We overcomplicate things as human beings. The things in our lives that are most meaningful generally show up and are, at first, challenging and hard. Every athletic accomplishment I have came with a really hard beginning. I started wrestling when I was in sixth grade, and lost every match. In seventh grade, I lost most of my matches. I started weightlifting and bench pressing light weight, weight that was embarrassing light. As a speaker, I was terrible at first; I was terrified to go out and speak with fortune 500 companies. With mountain climbing, I could barely climb anything. I had towels duck taped around my arms and legs. But then I started to gradually pick myself up in all of those situations.

With wrestling, I placed Top 12 in the nation my junior year in high school after people said it was completely impossible for me to ever win a match. Weightlifting, I started out with five pounds and ended up with more than 400 pounds and set two world records. In speaking, I started at 18 years-old scared out of my mind, and now it has become one of my biggest passions. Mountain climbing started with towels wrapped around my arms and legs climbing a 100-foot peak, and my most recent accomplishment has been climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The No Barrier's slogan is "What's in your way?" and a lot of the time we get in our own way. My goal is to identify how I'm getting in my own way and how can I change that? 

Talk to us about your hardships, whether physical or emotional, that you have had to overcome:

I think that hardships are mostly emotional. The harder stuff was mostly in terms of not being at the place where I had accepted my circumstance, and I say that knowing that that place of acceptance is more of a life-long quest. No matter who we are, we will compare ourselves to other individuals, have doubts and anxieties about our own futures and different things we wish we could change but know we can't. I think it's a path that we work towards that allows us to be okay with who we are, and I think once you can do that, it can help deal with those emotions.

As a kid, at times, I did feel a separation between me and the other kids in class. I used to wear the prosthetic arms and legs and I felt that if I was going to go around without the prosthetics on, I was going to be a lot more exposed and naked to the world. One of my bigger challenges in life was accepting and understanding that if I were able to do that then, it would give other people permission to do the same thing. 

Can you explain how technology and medical advances in prostectics have helped you with your climbing goals? 

I stopped using the traditional prosthetics when I was in kindergarten, and I haven’t tried them since. For my Mt. Kilimanjaro climb in particular, I had my first ever pair of shoes made. They were custom kicks made of carbon fiber wrapped around the sockets of my arms, and then my feet also had custom shoes with padding on the inside and hiking shoe soles on the outside.

Barb and Bret Booden own a company out of Phoenix, AZ called Erthotic Specialists, and they actually made and donated the equipment for me which was unreal. Had they not donated it, it probably would have cost around ten thousand dollars. I still have the stuff now which is cool because I can throw it on and be out the door whereas before, I was using towels and duct tape and it would take two to three hours just to get everything on. I would use $40/$50 in towels and tape every time I went hiking. Part of the goal with No Barriers is about making things adaptable and easier to figure out. We can rig things up but taking advantage of the technology that exists, or that is coming, can make a huge difference.

What do you want to do for your next adventure?

I have definite adventure and entrepreneurial ADD, so I bounce all over the place with things I want to do. I would say it's two fold. I will always have the physical things that I want to continue to work with, but I want to go and help people live a better quality of life. I have set a 10-year goal to try a health side of my speaking. I want to go and work with people who have auto-immune diseases and help them learn to treat and prevent these conditions. That being said, from a physical perspective, I will always be interested in trying new things. One of my goals now is to get involved with triathlons. I want to start by doing an Iron Man. The swim is going to be the hardest part, but I'm looking to start with races in which the swim portion doesn’t have much current. It's going to require getting a bike and racing chair adapted. 

*No Barriers USA was formed in 2005 by a group of friends with a passion for recreation in the natural world. They created an organization based on the assumption that each person, regardless of age, state of mind or physical condition, has a thirst for adventure and a hope for the future that is worthy of igniting. Their inaugural program was a biennial summit featuring innovative technologies that enabled people with and without disabilities to envision a full and active life. Later, programming expanded to include Soldiers to Summits and an online educational resource library.

**Erik Weihenmayer lost his vision at the age of 13 but didn't that stand in the way of his dreams. On May 25, 2011, Weihenmayer became the first blind climber in history to reach the summit of the world's highes mountain, Mount Everest. At the age of 33 he became one of less than 100 individuals to climb all of the Seven Summits--the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. In addition to his mountaineering Weihenmayer also serves as a board member for No Barriers.  

To find out more about No Barriers visit their website here

To find out more about Kyle visit his website here. 

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