Amputee wrestler inspires others

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

SUWANEE, Ga. When Kyle Maynard started wrestling in the sixth grade, he just wanted to win one match. He wasn't daunted by his limitations: He was born with stumps for arms and legs.

Six years later, he is one of the top high school wrestlers in Georgia and is wrapping up his senior year with a trip to the national tournament.

''I just kind of see me as anybody else,'' Maynard said.

Maynard is a congenital amputee. He has no elbows or knees, no hands and very small feet. He is only slightly over 2 feet tall.

But those who think of the Collins Hill High School senior as disabled soon learn otherwise.

Just ask the bullies who tried to corner him and take his motorized wheelchair especially the one who lost a tooth as he was driven to the ground by Maynard's punch.

Just watch him type 50 words a minute or demonstrate perfect penmanship.

Just talk to classmates who long ago stopped thinking of him as handicapped.

Or, just ask one of the 35 wrestlers with arms and legs Maynard has defeated this year on his way to the National High School Association's Senior Nationals wrestling tournament Friday through Sunday in Cleveland.

''Anyone who has been around wrestling can tell you how difficult the sport is for able bodies,'' said Bob Ferraro, the NHSA executive director. ''To see a kid like Kyle Maynard participate in the sport of wrestling is remarkable, let alone participate successfully. You can't comprehend it.''

Maynard finished in the top 12 in his 103-pound weight class in the Georgia High School Association's state tournament after placing second in a tough Gwinnett County region of 14 schools. He was an important part of a Collins Hill team that finished second in Class AAAAA the state's largest classification.

The senior nationals most likely will be the final wrestling competition for Maynard.

''The way I see it, it's one more opportunity for him to inspire more people,'' Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said.

Wrestlers who see Maynard for the first time might not know what to think.

''I remember when I first started wrestling Kyle in middle school, I didn't have a clue,'' Collins Hill senior Sean Patrick said. ''You think maybe he's fragile. I don't consider him handicapped at all, but that's what I thought when I first saw him. Now I go as hard as anything with Kyle. You have to if you want to keep up with him.''

Maynard uses a wheelchair to get around, lifting himself from his chair with ease to crawl around a room or up and down stairs.

At school, Maynard lifts weights with the help of belts and chains 105-pound weights attached to each arm. The barbell on each arm outweighs his body. He strains during his workout, satisfied only when he's completed his repetitions.

He is one of many wrestlers in the room. Maynard blends in as an equal, and that's how he likes it.

Ferraro became interested in Maynard after spending several days with him in September.

''After the first 10 seconds of the conversation with Kyle, his disabilities disappear,'' Ferraro said. ''All you see is a beautiful young person with a positive attitude on life.''

Maynard's mother, Anita, introduced Kyle as a sixth-grader to Ramos.

''When she first told me he's got some physical limitations, I said 'That's fine, that's no big deal,''' Ramos said. ''I told her not to worry. Then she described what he looked like and I kind of paused. Then she told me not to worry.''

At the time, no one thought Maynard would finish his high school career in a national tournament. His goals were more modest at first.

''I would have to say it was one of the hardest times of my life, trying to overcome that and just trying to win a match,'' he said.

Word of his success spread from Atlanta across the nation. HBO's camera crew recently spent a week with Maynard. A screenwriter is working on his story, eyeing a movie deal.

Maynard has not received any offers to wrestle in college, where the smallest weight class is 125 pounds. His grade-point average is close to 3.7 and he may pursue a business degree at Georgia, where he was accepted this week.

He is to address the NHSA banquet in Cleveland on Thursday night, and he wants to become a motivational speaker.

''I love speaking and I'd like to make it work,'' he said.

With Ferraro's help, Maynard signed last week with the Washington Speakers Bureau.

''If he can keep a positive attitude, always upbeat, with what he lives with,'' Ramos said, ''the rest of the people's problems don't seem that bad.''

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