On a bitter morning in the middle of January, the tail of a storm dropping the windchill to freezing, Maynard meets me at the student field house, having steered his motorized chair a long way through the gusts. (On a campus so large it takes up much of the town and requires students to drive or catch buses between classes, Maynard, who is carless, must plan his day around the big blocks of time he needs to get places.) He is dressed, as usual, in a T-shirt and shorts, laughing off the unseasonable cold that has fellow students bundled as if for ice fishing. We head for the weight room, which, like everyplace else here, is full to bursting with tanned blonds. When Kyle wheels in, every eye in the room trails him to the stretch mat. Two floor attendants help him set up, tying plates to the chains he uses to bench.
As today is a light one (he has a rematch tomorrow against a kid who outwrestled him last fall), Maynard begins with low-end weight, doing flat-bench flys with 250. At 120 pounds, he can bench press three times his weight, and in early March he traveled to the Arnold Classic in Ohio to shatter the modified bench pressing world record for a teen by lifting 360 pounds. I watch, dumbfounded, as he glides through sets, easily firing up 15 reps, then popping off the bench for dips. When he's done he clambers down and scuttles to the pec-dec station. Here he sets the pin at 230 and grunts through short-stroke sets, snapping the stack with perfect form, then guiding it down slow to rest. When you stand to one side, your view partly obscured, it's possible to forget that Maynard has no arms, to find the big-shouldered kid with quartz features the benchmark of male development. What's harder to lose sight of is his age; he's impossibly strong for 19.
"That's what comes from losing," he says, catching a breath between chest work and triceps. "I got so mad at being manhandled that I said, 'Quit, or stop whining and do something.' There are two words I live by – 'no excuses' – and so I started with two-pound plates and slowly worked my way up." It took him a while to find his form, because nothing in the gym is set up for him. But between his father and Coach Ramos, they figured out how to simulate bench press by hitching chains to his stumps. (The thick chains are rigged to padded cuffs, which in turn slip over Kyle's arms.) "And by the time summer passed I was definitely stronger, or at least strong enough to get my own shots in."
Though it was several months, still, till that first win at county, he'd become a bantam wrestler no one wanted to fight, bashing opponents with his cudgel stumps and battering them with his head. He worked out maniacally after school, and often had the weight room at the top of Collins Hill High to himself. One day Ramos poked his head in late and saw Kyle bent over, pouring sweat. "He was probably a ninth-grader then and far down the roster, but I thought to myself, There's a winner. Anyone who works that hard with no one watching is going to be unstoppable one day."
From way back in boyhood, Kyle's fantasy of fantasies was to become a varsity wrestler. He idolized the starters on Collins Hill's powerhouse squad, thrilling to see them at the mall or pictured in the local daily. Under the direction of Cliff Ramos, Collins Hill High has become the premier program in the state of Georgia, finishing in the top three each of the past six years and cracking the nation's top 50 last fall. There are about 65 kids on its active roster, and a number of them go on to scholarships at Division I or Division II colleges. Kyle spent three years waiting his turn, competing on the very good junior varsity team and handling himself ably at 95 pounds. Finally, as a senior, he wrestled his way onto the varsity team, certifying his status as a god on campus and catching the eye of national media. Not all the attention was celebratory, though. "I got letters and e-mails from around the country saying, 'C'mon, people let him win,'" says Ramos. "It never occurred to them that a kid with no arms could overpower guys his size. But they don't know Kyle, or anyone like him, because there is no one like Kyle."
If you think a limbless teen can't outpoint his foes, you've never seen Maynard scamper side to side, darting for a hold. Wrestlers may start matches on their feet, but bouts are won and lost on all fours, and Maynard is already down there, waiting. Moreover, his foes' weight takes up full-length frames, but Maynard's is concentrated in his trunk, giving him advantages in strength and balance. These are offset, of course, by a long list of deficits, prime among them the lack of hands to grasp and control opponents and legs with which to take them down. "I do what I can with the moves I've got, but a good wrestler can usually negate them," he admits. "Where I'll have three or four counters, say, a guy with arms and legs will have a dozen. And the real trouble comes when he sees me on film and can prep for the limited things I do."
What no one can properly train for is Maynard's motor, his tireless, pit bull drive to dominate. Few, if any, two-minute stints of peak exertion are more taxing than a round of wrestling, and a high school match has three of them, with no rest periods. Giving away length and skill in bouts, Maynard made up for it by being relentless and went 35-16 as a 103-pound senior. (He also kept his vow to Coach Ramos by never getting pinned.) Along the way, he beat champions from other states, then suffered narrow losses in the state tournament. Still, he managed to land a spot at nationals. There, he was mobbed by thousands of fans who'd seen him on HBO, swarming his mat while he stretched for matches and begging him to sign their programs.
"He was almost like a rock star – we had to have our own guards just to get through the arena," marvels Ramos. "It stunned some of his teammates, who came up to me later and said, 'Kyle's good but he's not that good.' Can you imagine a higher compliment? They'd completely lost sight of the fact that he was wrestling with no arms or legs."