There Is Nothing Special About Kyle Maynard…
Credit: Jeffrey Mayer / Getty Images
In conjuring the life of an amputee wrestler, you can land pretty quickly on the shores of folklore, describing a kid who could have been invented by Gabriel García Márquez. It's a question less of fact than of size and scale. Most of us proceed in steps so small that we can't remember the route that brought us here, to this place and this time and this self. But Kyle Maynard's path moves in leaps, not steps, and it would be easy to lose him in the myth, to treat him like a shorter Paul Bunyan. To do so would be to miss the point of him, though, which is that courage isn't an option but a duty.

Begin, then, with the miracle that led things off: the fact that Kyle lived at all. Sometime before birth, likely the first trimester, he was stricken with a condition called amniotic band syndrome (ABS). In layman's terms, the inner lining of the womb rips, and loose strands of membrane encircle the fetus, choking off blood to its limbs. Nobody knows why this happens; heredity has been ruled out, but no unified theory has emerged. ABS is rare – one in 3,846 babies is born missing all or part of an appendage – and severe cases like Kyle's are overwhelmingly likely to miscarry or end in stillbirth. (Quadruple amputees are so rare that statistics don't even exist on how many there are.) To compound the mystery, Kyle's parents were healthy, and when they went in for a sonogram, it showed no damage.

"Scott was in the army at the time, finishing his tour at Fort Myer, and we went to the V.A. hospital to have it done," recalls Anita, a tall, trim blonde with a year-round tan and the pep of a former majorette. "The technician thought he saw something, so he called in the doctor, who looked things over and announced that Kyle was fine. And then six months later came this beautiful white-haired baby who, by the way, had no arms or legs. The news just crushed us – I mean, really plowed us over – but we were first-time parents who had to go raise our child."

In lieu of dialing lawyers or taking to bed in depression, the Maynards searched for other cases and managed to come across two. The first was a three-year-old boy in Maryland who fed himself and raced about on his stumps. The second was a man in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the Maynards settled to be near Anita's family. He was a fully functional adult who earned a living as a graphic artist and drove a modified van. Heartened to learn that life was navigable without limbs, the Maynards laid down an iron rule: Kyle was to be treated as a typical child, with no breaks or allowances thrown his way. As early as six months, he was put on the floor and strongly encouraged to crawl. At 18 months, they strapped a spoon to his arm and told him to use it or starve. "We didn't mean it literally," says Anita, laughing, while glancing over at Scott. "Well, I didn't, anyway, but I'm the softy. He's the hard one, or thinks he is."

In the basement rec room of their brick colonial in this sprawling Atlanta suburb they moved to in 1997, the Maynards are gathered on a nippy Sunday, the sounds of a televised ball game in the background. On the couch with his mother are Kyle's three sisters, one blonder and more beautiful than the next. Much like their brother, they are soft-spoken kids with a streak of Midwestern shyness, and seem a little in awe of the attention Kyle's gotten in the past 10 months or so. There was a segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last year, an hour-long appearance on Larry King Live, and a front-page story in USA Today, plus a book deal, speaking engagements, and an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot. The spotlight baffles the girls, as it does their parents: No one here has the least idea why people find Kyle – or his family – special. They have managed so seamlessly to mainstream him that they've forgotten why it was necessary to do so.

"People think we pushed him toward sports and all, but that was Kyle's doing," says Scott. "From the age of five he's been a rabid fan, and all he ever talked about was playing football. So when we moved here, I thought, shoot, let's do it; let's get him into peewees and see what happens. And he did really well at it, playing nose tackle on defense, and if you ran it up the gut there, he'd bring you down."

But kids stomped on his bandaged feet, which point backward and can't be shod. (Kyle's legs end where the thighbone begins, and the left one is longer than the right.) Anita feared that without an after-school activity, he'd sit at home and mope, so she acceded to his desire to wrestle, hoping he wouldn't get hurt. "In the good-cop/bad-cop deal we had going, Scott was the drill sergeant who cracked the whip, whereas my job was to surround Kyle with other kids, make sure he was social at all times," she says. "Our mantra with him was, 'Normal, normal, normal,' because we never knew any better."

Nor, as it developed, did Kyle. A rambunctious kid who was constantly underfoot, driving his mother crazy – "At 13 months he would crawl in the broom closet and yank my vacuum wands down" – he excelled in school and was early with milestones, learning to read and write by preschool. Bringing his arms together, he could hold a brush or pencil in the crook. (Implausibly, his handwriting is stellar, and he cleanly types 50 words a minute.) He had a yardful of friends who made room for him at play, installing him in goal during their street hockey games and at lineman for rough touch football. The only time he ever felt odd or excluded was when doctors, in their ignorance, stooped to meddle. During a bad year while he was in kindergarten, he tried out prostheses after a specialist told his family they'd change his life. Ugly and painful, they did just that, leaving him stuck in his noisy wheelchair and dependent on an aide. When he threw off the extensions before school one day, Kyle's pals let out a roar. "They love him the way he is," reported his teacher that afternoon when Anita came to pick him up. "With arms and legs – or whatever you call those things – he doesn't seem to be like Kyle."