Kyle Maynard is no stranger to overcoming adversity. As a
congenital, quadrilateral amputee, Maynard has spent his entire life adapting
to the many challenges he has faced, but his disability has done little to
hinder his abilities.
At the age of 25 years, Maynard has competed as an amateur mixed martial
arts fighter, wrestled at the high school and collegiate levels, written a
New York Times best seller and forged a successful career as a
motivational speaker. For his next achievement, Maynard set his sights even
He decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
|Kyle Maynard and his team climbed
Mt. Kiliimanjaro in 10 days.
|Images: Joey Leonardo.|
When he was born, Maynard’s parents made the decision to give him
as much independence as possible.
“They didn’t want to focus solely on my disability and all of
the things that I couldn’t do,” he told O&P Business
News. “They wanted to focus on my ability and the things that I was
capable of doing.”
He experimented with the use of prostheses as a child, but found that
they hampered his abilities to perform daily tasks. Instead, Maynard quickly
found ways to adapt without prostheses, learning to use silverware, type on a
standard keyboard and even text.
Maynard began playing football as a child, and soon after started
wrestling. He was widely recognized as a talented wrestler, winning 36 matches
in his senior high school season. In 2004, Maynard won an ESPY for best athlete
with a disability, and in 2005, Maynard attended the University of Georgia,
wrestling in the 125 lb. weight class on the club team.
As he gained more recognition for his wrestling talents, he was
approached about the possibility of writing a book. No Excuses: The Story
of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life
was published in 2005 and soon reached the New York Times best
sellers list. Maynard then placed his collegiate career on hold to promote his
book around the United States.
In April 2009, Maynard achieved another milestone, becoming the first
quadrilateral amputee to compete as an amateur mixed martial arts fighter.
One of Maynard’s many passions is his gym, No Excuses CrossFit,
which he opened in Suwanee, Ga. in 2008. CrossFit is a high-intensity workout
focusing on short-duration, functional exercises. Through the CrossFit
community, he began working with wounded soldiers and veterans, helping them
learn to physically adapt to their disabilities.
“My dad was in the military, and I always knew that I wanted to
serve, whether that was actually in the military or through a different
capacity,” Maynard said. “It was a really cool thing to go and show
these guys, ‘Hey, you’re missing a limb, but no matter what you want
to do, you can still do it, you just might have to achieve it in a different
way.’ So that led to me spending more and more time with the guys in
Walter Reed. I was born there, so it was just something that came back full
Inspired by his work with the veteran community, Maynard decided to use
it as a platform for his trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“Every day, 18 American soldiers commit suicide. I wanted to use
this climb as an opportunity to help veterans bring awareness to this
staggering number,” Maynard said.
He wanted to prove to the veteran community, as well as children with
disabilities, that no dream was too big or too difficult to be realized.
Preparing for the climb
Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, standing 19,340 ft.
above sea level in the country of Tanzania. If Maynard reached the summit, he
would become the first person to do so while climbing on all four limbs.
Having never relied on orthotic or prosthetic devices, Maynard knew that
proper equipment would be one of the biggest challenges when preparing for the
“For the first time I climbed anything, I covered my arms with bath
towels and tied them on with a rope,” he said. “Then we just
progressed from there. We tried oven mitts and pot holders, leather welding
sleeves, silicon prosthetic liners, basically anything we could find in a
He also tried taping bike tires to his limbs with duct tape.
“That system was functional, but it wasn’t permanent,”
Maynard said. “We had to keep making constant adjustments to it.”
A fortunate miscommunication
Maynard was then introduced to Barbara Boutin, CO from Orthotic
Specialists, Inc. in Phoenix. He met her through his guides, Kristen
Sandquistand Kevin Cherilla, the co-founders of the K2 Adventure
Foundation Inc., who would be leading him up the mountain.
“We met Kevin and Kristen through a family of children that we
treat,” Boutin said. “They went to meet Kyle out in Atlanta and saw
the devices that he had made for himself. So they called the family that we
treat who then emailed me and said, ‘Kevin and Kristen have met the most
incredible guy out in Atlanta, and we are wondering if you can create some
orthotics for him to climb Kilimanjaro.’”
Boutin immediately agreed to help, although she admits that she had no
idea what she was actually agreeing to.
“Our lab had just burned down, so we were in the middle of trying
to figure out how we were going to serve our patients in a temporary
location,” Boutin said. “And looking at the email, I was confused as
to why a hiker from Atlanta would come all the way to Phoenix for foot
orthotics, but I responded that we would do anything we could to help.
“So 3 hours later, I get an email which is a series of photographs.
It starts out with the devices that Kyle had made. And I was looking at those,
and I hadn’t seen a picture of Kyle yet, and I’m thinking,
‘Where is this person from that they have got this kind of stuff? They
must have met someone from Indonesia or Africa where bike tires are common
place for orthotic and prosthetic devices.’” she said.
“When they first received the pictures of the gear, they thought I
was from a third world country because they thought the stuff was put together
in a rural, poor area,” Maynard said of Boutin’s first impressions of
him. “But then they saw that I was Caucasian, so they were wondering what
the deal was.”
|Maynard resorted to using
household items before being outfitted with proper climbing equipment.
After some further clarifications and an explanation of Kyle’s
situation and what he was attempting to do, Boutin began a series of phone
interviews with Maynard to formulate a plan.
Maynard visited with Boutin in Phoenix three times, for the initial
evaluation and casting, once for a trial hike and then for the final fitting.
The entire process took 6 weeks and between 200 and 300 hours of labor to
Boutin and her team, who also worked with Owen Larson, CP from
Artificial Limb Specialists in Phoenix, used a combination of harnesses, clips
and prosthetic sockets and liners to create a functional climbing system for
Maynard. They began with prosthetic sockets lined with various types and
densities of foams. The bottoms of the sockets were modified to allow for the
attachment of Vibram soling that would be added once Maynard actually hiked
with the equipment and his weight-bearing surfaces could be identified. The
sockets were then attached to harnesses using clips.
“We spent hours and hours analyzing gait footage of him on a
treadmill, as well as gait footage that we took of him in the office to
determine what his weight bearing surfaces were and how his limbs moved,”
Boutin said. “We took molds of his limbs and modified those molds to take
all of those things into account.”
When Maynard returned for his second visit, he went hiking with the
prototypes. The sockets and lining needed little adjustment, but the harnessing
system required more attention.
“We changed the harnessing system from a basic over-the-counter hip
abduction device to a climbing harness, because Kyle’s hips are flexed at
90· and a climbing harness is actually meant to sit in. And then we had
to modify the upper extremity harness so that when he went into full extension
over his head and then came back down that his sockets wouldn’t fall off,
which is actually what had been happening on one of his trial runs.”
When the system was finalized, Boutin and her team provided Maynard with
two sets of harnesses and 8 devices, four upper-extremity and four
lower-extremity, in case any were damaged during the climb.
“They donated all of their time and resources. It was
incredible,” Maynard said of Boutin and her team. “I loved their
creativity and how they thought outside of the box. It was just mind-blowing
what they had been able to do.”
In the beginning of January, with his new climbing equipment finalized,
Maynard was ready for his trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. His team consisted of nine
people, including two injured veterans, former Marine officer Chris
Hadsall, who was injured in a suicide car bomb attack in Iraq, and former
Army staff sergeant Sandra Ambotaite, who had been injured stateside in
a motorcycle accident and was told that she may never walk again.
Maynard’s childhood best friend, Joey Leonardo, was also on board.
“The biggest problems I had to face were the mileage and the
swelling that resulted from being on all fours for so long,” he said.
“It was unavoidable, so I just tried to truck through the pain.”
The climb took 10 days, and reaching the summit was almost indescribable
“It was absolutely beautiful. Touching the sign, knowing that we
were standing on top of the roof of Africa, I felt this jolt of energy that
flowed through me and I knew that everything we had set out to do at that
point, we had done,” he said. “We brought that dream to life, and it
was an amazing feeling. And the fact that we had Chris and Sandra, and I had my
best friend Joey by my side, was just an incredible moment.”
|Maynard had two sets of harnesses
and eight climbing devices, four each for upper and lower extremities.
Maynard hopes that his trip will inspire others living with disabilities
and encourage them to pursue their own dreams.
“Being a congenital amputee, it’s been significantly easier to
adapt to the challenges that I have had to face in my life because I have never
known anything different. But these soldiers have had to learn a totally
different way,” Maynard said. “It’s really about planting the
belief in them that they can still have the life they want. It’s not going
to be the same life that they were accustomed to in the military, but I just
want them to believe that they have the ability to fight for what they want.
“One of my mentors, Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, told me
that he believes that true rehabilitation is not just about getting the
functionality back that you had before, it’s about allowing those
circumstances to make you better,” he said. — by Megan