You guys. (!!!!) (deep breath)(!!!!) You guys. I am so, so excited to for today's spotlight featuring none other than Kyle Maynard. This is my 101st spotlight and you probably can't even begin to understand how awesome this moment is for me right now. I'm smiling ear to ear, but there is a lump in my throat as well. It's that kind of moment.
If you follow me on instagram you'll remember that last month on my way to NYC I saw Kyle and his bff Joey in the Dayton airport. Dayton--you guys... not a major hub. I had just gone through security and was waiting for my laptop, shoes, etc. when I look the next line over and see Kyle. I do a double take and then suddenly I've got ants in my pants waiting for the rest of my stuff on the conveyer belt because I can see Kyle is almost done and ready to head off. So I just grab my laptop and walk over barefoot and introduce myself. I tell him about Lamp and how amazing this is to meet him and ask if I can get a picture. Kyle was so nice. He asked questions, took a picture and generally acted as if he had all the time in the world to talk to me. Then I tell him about my blog and the spotlight and on the spot, I ask him if he'd be willing to participate! He graciously said yes. This is a guy whose story I first came across when I saw him on Oprah. In general his media coverage is pretty broad and impressive, yet he agreed to be a part of the special needs spotlight. Pretty amazing, right? The funny thing is I had been thinking about interviewing someone really big for the spotlight, maybe a celebrity who had connections to the special needs world. And then the Universe was like, "Hmmmm, a celebrity with a disability and a personal connection to you and your family? Is that all? Here you go." I couldn't have scripted it better myself. And then the Universe was all, "And that's why they pay me the big bucks." Well played Universe, well played. Without further ado, here's the 101st spotlight, featuring Kyle Maynard.
Kyle Maynard is a motivational speaker, author, entrepreneur and athlete. Despite being born with arms that end at the elbows and legs near the knees, Kyle’s wrestled for one of the best teams in the Southeast, set records in weightlifting, fought in mixed martial arts, and most recently became the first man to crawl on his own to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
His story has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, ESPN’s Sportscenter, HBO’s Real Sports, ABC’s 20/20 and Good Morning America, and as a cover story in USA Today. He continues to inspire as the author of his book, No Excuses (2005), a New York Times bestseller. Read Kyle’s full bio on his website here.
Miggy: Hi Kyle! Thank you so much for being willing to participate in today's special needs spotlight. This. is. amazing. To be featuring you on today's spotlight is a full circle moment for me, as well as a full-heart moment. Again, thank you. So I first heard about you and your story years ago on the Oprah show. (!!) This was long before I had children of my own and of course could have never imagined I would one day feel such a close connection to you and your story. One thing that stood out to me during that interview was that your parents raised you with a 'no excuses' attitude, meaning they treated you the same as your other siblings and didn't let you use your disability as an excuse not to do something. At the time I was struck with how remarkable their philosophy was but also found myself thinking, "Oh yeah...of course. Of course that's the best way to raise a child with physical disabilities." Thankfully I've remembered that perspective now that it pertains to our family and especially our daughter Lamp. Tell us what did "no excuses" look like in reality and on a daily basis as you were growing up? Were you resistant at times? How did your parents help push you forward through the rough times?
Kyle: Thank you for the very kind words! I do feel like I won the parent lottery. The thing that still blows me away about their approach was that nobody, other than my grandparents, really helped them with any guidance when I was young. It was also before the days of Google searching where you could see people doing really cool stuff with disabilities. They really had no idea how my life would turn out or what would be possible.
The best way I can describe the day-to-day in my house growing up was my parents played the ultimate Jedi mind trick on me. We didn't really talk about the disability a whole bunch, and most of my friends that I spent time with were just typical kids. It wasn't that they avoided the questions I had, but they never really focused on the disability. My mom was the best at organizing neighborhood street hockey games or inviting kids over to play super Nintendo at my house.
Miggy: When I met you at the airport last week I also met your friend Joey, who has been your best friend since you were 11 years old, which is awesome. As a mom one of the biggest concerns I have is how my daughter will be received socially as she grows up. She is 4 years old and full of spunk. She is outgoing and friendly and I hope these traits continue to flourish as she grows. Can you tell us what it was like for you growing up? What was school like and did you encounter bullying as a kid? More importantly, how did you handle tough situations and what advice would you give to a child going through something similar? Any advice for us parents in helping our children navigate these tough waters?
Kyle: I feel pretty lucky in that I never had to deal with too much bullying. I really think that one of the major defining factors in keeping me from it was my mom being very proactive in helping me be around a lot of friends from an early age. It's hard to really explain the extent of it, but I feel like my mom had higher hopes for my social life then she did academics or sports or really anything else. That's not to say she didn't care about grades, as I was told I would be homeless if I ever brought home a C on a report card.
Having lots of friends from an early age makes such a huge difference for a kid-- whether or not they have a disability. These friends can come from sports or theater or church or chorus or any activity-- but I think having these friends is 300% more important when you have a physical disability. Just don't ask me where that number came from, it's just science.
Miggy: I've talked a bit about using people with disabilities as "inspiration porn" on my blog and would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Admittedly, I am torn. I have definitely been inspired by people with disabilities--you included--like I have been inspired by my own daughter as I've watched her learn to work with her body and the natural challenges she faces. On the other hand, I see how talking about people with disabilities as "inspiring" for simply doing day to day things like "being so positive!" or having a job can be condescending. As someone who has been the focal point of inspiration for others I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is there a right way and a wrong way to be inspired by people with disabilities? Do you even think it's really a problem or do you think that positive attention and inspiration are always a good thing?
Kyle: I get how some people could feel uncomfortable with being an inspiration. I feel like I experienced some of that when I was a teenager too. However, the older I've gotten I feel like if I can't be called an inspiration by someone, then it's really my own insecurity.
I am a stoic philosophy geek, so I'll use this short story to explain my beliefs on inspiration. I'm pretty sure it was Marcus Aurelius who told the story and I'll paraphrase:
If we are walking along a trail and come to a place where few people, if any, have been before… Then I say to you, "Look at this beautiful flower! I bet nobody has seen how beautiful this is before." Then we continue on our way leaving the flower as a memory.
The deal is… That flower was beautiful before I acknowledged it for being beautiful. And it remains beautiful after we (the acknowledgers) moved on. And because it was beautiful before and after, the acknowledgment has no real impact on the beauty of the flower. So, the acknowledgment was really for us, not for the flower.
When people tell me I am an inspiration, I appreciate their words, but I also realize at the end of the day the acknowledgment was really for them having an opening to see something in themselves. I hope this makes some semblance of sense… Maybe I just confused myself :-)
Miggy: From my perspective we have come a long way as a society when it comes to awareness and education about people with disabilities and/or special needs. However, we still have a long way to go. In many ways I see disabilities as the final frontier of civil rights--so many things that are not OK in the context of race or gender for example, are still very much OK when thought of in terms of disability. What are some achievements or even baby steps you hope to see in your lifetime in regards to disability awareness, equality, and prejudice?
Kyle: That's pretty cool… My dad has always said the same – that disabilities are the final frontier of civil rights. I agree. We are pretty lucky in the United States with the way we view disability though. Some areas in the world have a ways to go.
I think the biggest step that we have taken, at least from my perspective, has to do with the integration of people with disabilities into having a "normal life" in a "normal society." The more we keep people segregated – whether that's in segregated classrooms or sports teams or social groups – the less progress we make. Progress in my mind – similar to any other social movement – is made by an increasingly seamless line between what we perceive as normal and different. The less we notice a difference in the life of someone with a disability and someone without, the better off we are.
Miggy: I'm a big believer in seeing the humor in life and learning to laugh and sometimes with Lamp we've had some really funny moments that related directly to her limb differences especially when she had a prosthetic arm. For example we'd be in public asking each other, "Where's the baby's arm? Did we bring her arm?" While people look on like we're crazy people. Have you ever had a funny moment or conversation related to your limb differences?
Kyle: I would probably need a full blog post with just these stories… But one of my personal favorites was telling a 30-year-old man (who had a major, major surfer accent) that I lost my limbs in Vietnam when I was about 10 years old. He looked at me stunned, but as I recall, mostly believed my story. Plus there was that time I staged a shark attack at the beach… Good times.
Miggy: Kyle, you have done a lot of really exciting and wonderful things in your life--including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro! What do you still hope to achieve? And what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Kyle: There's still plenty left on the bucket list. Some pretty random things too. I would love to get into pottery, painting, and a few other forms of art. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a huge part of my life and I will be a world champion before too long. At some point I'd love to disappear and sail around the world. Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to settle down and have a family.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was the most rewarding physical feat, but getting to carry the ashes of a fallen soldier, named Corey Johnson, to the summit was a much greater honor.
Miggy: Lastly, if you only had one piece of advice or one life lesson to share with the world what would it be?
Kyle: If you want something badly, do it. Trust your gut and quit with the justifications of why it can't happen. It's a lesson I am still learning, but 11 months ago I packed a duffel bag and moved across the country to San Diego. I have my family, a business, a lot of friends and a lot of good memories behind in Atlanta, but this year in California has probably been the best year of my life.
Kyle, not only are you an amazing guy in so many ways, but you're also hi-lar-ious. Thanks for your science-backed facts and Vietnam/shark victim stories. I was dying! I am definitely going to need to hear the long version of that one some time. And can I just say I love your parents. I know that the internet is a huge advantage for those of us raising kids with special needs today--the ability to connect with families online and in person who have walked a similar road has been so helpful. Your parents are clearly wise and wonderful people. And I love that your dad says the same thing about disabilities and civil rights. For some reason I was a little nervous to put that out there like that, so I'm glad I did. I knew I was right! :) Thanks again for participating. This has meant so much to me and I think my readers will be pretty blown away as well.
Am I right everyone? Was that not amazing? One thing I find especially inspiring is Kyle's determination to push himself physically. It's easy to take our 'typical' bodies for granted. With Lamp in mind I have thought a lot about not wanting to create negative body issues in our house--something that seems to plague girls in general, coupled with the fact that I have a daughter with a very unique body type. I used to worry about working out at home--would my girls think I was obsessed with weight/fitness/being a certain size? It is so important to me that all my girls love the precious bodies they were given. Which led me to realize that of course I want them to see me honoring my body through healthy yet balanced habits. So yes, I work out at home and will always encourage them to take the best care of their bodies that they can. If anyone had an excuse not to work out, Kyle could probably have played that card his entire life. He really, really lives his 'no excuses' motto and it's inspired me to step up my game as well.
OK you guys, no pressure to follow that spotlight or anything--ha!--but please I'm always looking for new spotlights so please if you or someone you know would like to participate in the special needs spotlight email me at thislittlemiggy at gmail dot com. If you'd like to refer a friend please have THEM email me directly.
Have a great weekend!