Kyle Maynard was a bona fide contender for a Georgia state high school wrestling championship, despite a physical condition that put him at a distinct disadvantage. Maynard, 19, was born a congenital amputee -- his arms ending at his elbows; his legs at his knees.
"I've met people who wonder why I wrestle," he writes in a new book "No Excuses." "Am I trying to have people feel sorry for me? Or am I simply trying to make friends, to be the token member of the team? Some people can't see the truth -- that regardless of my physical difference, I am as fierce a competitor as anyone can be."
"He was for real," said Cliff Ramos, Maynard's coach at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga. "Nobody took him lightly. And if they did, they regretted it."
Athletes such as Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Ultimate Fighting champion Randy Couture say Maynard is an inspiration to them. Even though he isn't out of his teens, he is legendary at his former high school.
"If I have a practice going on," said Ramos, "and I think I've got some kids who aren't being as tough, maybe, as they should be, I'll stop practice and I'll remind them about a guy that wrestled here with no arms and no legs and never complained, even when he hurt his shoulder once."
From the beginning, Maynard's parents say they focused on making his life as normal as possible.
"All we knew is that he was a beautiful baby," said his mother, Anita. "He was glowing. He was gorgeous. ... So we focused on his face, that gorgeous face."
Congenital amputation occurs in about one of every 2,000 births, but rarely affects all four limbs, as it did with Maynard. From the beginning, he said, his father insisted that he learn to feed himself out of concern that he might grow too dependent on others, while his grandmother refused to let other people look away from him.
"She brought me to a lot of grocery stores and she'd set me down in the cart. She told me, 'You don't have to be afraid of people. Look them straight in the eye and let them know that you see yourself as normal, and that's the way that they should perceive you, too.' "
Maynard was an active, ambitious child who loved rough-and-tumble activities. In neighborhood street hockey games, he played goalie. Then, in sixth grade, Maynard decided he wanted to play football. His mother made the call to the coach.
"I just told him that my child was born without all of his arms and legs, and has a big desire to play football, and is there something that he can do for the team?" said Anita Maynard.
She thought the experience would help Maynard socialize. But he and his father believed he could play. So did the coach, Tom Schie, who told Maynard he was picked for the team because of his ability, and for no other reason.
Soon, Maynard's father encouraged his son to try another sport which would at least match him with kids his own weight -- wrestling. He started in sixth grade.
He lost his first 35 matches.
"I was extremely discouraged. I don't think that anybody could go through that period without doubting themselves in some way, if you're a true competitor," he said. "I wanted to win."
His opponents learned quickly how to take advantage of him. They kept a hand on his head to prevent him from reaching them.