Next time you’re complaining about YOUR workout…
BY STEVE JANOSKI
Bend down, put your hands on the floor, and bear crawl across the room. Just do it. Really.
Sucks, doesnt it? Its amazing the pain that this one simple, fairly natural movement can create in your shoulders, thighs, back, and just about everywhere else.
Now consider doing that for 38 miles, with a little slope in the middle that culminates at an altitude of 19,341 feet, and youll understand the magnitude of what 26-year-old congenital amputee Kyle Maynard accomplished last January when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro - Africa’s highest peak - to become the first ever to do so without assistance.
The journey to the summit began seven years ago when a friend goaded him into hiking a small mountain overlooking Palm Springs, Calif. He’d just held a speaking engagement, he said, on the philosophies of his 2006 book “No Excuses,” which chronicled his journey from being born with no arms or legs below the elbows or knees to becoming a football player, champion high school wrestler, and accomplished weightlifter.
Initially, he balked at the proposal, but his friend wouldn’t let it go.
“It was like a dare,” said Maynard. "I was thinking in my head, “There’[s no way I have enough time, I’ll be stuck up there with no clothes, no gear,’… and then as I was verbalizing these things, he said, ‘You just spoke about this. No excuses. Let’s do it.’ And it was awesome. It gave me the itch.”
A few hours later, as he sat on the peak and watched a Cessna circle below him, and everything changed.
Seven years, a dozen preparation hikes, and scores of Crossfit workouts later, he began the 18-day trip up the tallest free-standing mountain in the world as a way to prove to the disabled -and specifically to veterans returning from AmericaÃ¢??s wars Ã¢?? that nothing is impossible.
Accompanying him were two veterans, Army Staff Sgt. Sandra Ambotaite and former Marine officer Chris Hadsall, who, according to the group’s mission statement, “deployed to combat zones and bear both seen and unseen scars from their combat tours.” Also present was expedition guide Kevin Cherilla of the K2 Adventures Foundation, as well as a film crew from ESPN.
“Our goal was to reach the veterans that were laying in the hospital in Walter Reed or Brooks Army Medical Center that had recent injuries or burns,” Maynard said. “It was to help them have some hope.”
There was one other goal, too: spread the ashes of Corey Johnson, a Marine who had passed away in May of 2011, at the top of the mountain at his mother’s request.
“She said that Corey would like to be able to help in some way, and she asked if we would carry (his) ashes up,” he said. Maynard agreed.
Two things about the excursion worried him: the sheer length of the hike, and the weather conditions. Although the weather would hold out, the distance proved hellish and forced Maynard to crawl through 12-hour days filled with boulders, ice fields, and uphill climbs.
“(It) was as bad or worse than I expected,” he said. “The wear and tear on my body was the hardest part. I just remember several moments in days four or day five, laying down in my tent and crying and going off in private to have those moments.”
During those times, he forced himself to recall why he was there.
“There are so many brave men and women that go through their issues, they’re going through something way harder than I am, and they’re not giving up, so I’m not giving up,” he said.
Nine days in, the team switched from the more gradual incline of the Machame route to the more direct (but far more hazardous) Western Breach as a way to speed up the hike. As Cherilla said in the ESPN video (which can be watched on YouTube), it’s “a big risk.”
Maynard quickly agreed and fought through the pain as he nearly slid down steep slopes and had to attach chains to the specially made carbon-fiber shoes that covered the ends of his limbs to move in the snow.
He and his team reached the summit, and Maynard tearfully cast the fallen soldierÃ¢??s ashes across Uhuru Peak, which is Swahili for “Freedom.”
The experience, he said, was remarkable.
“That morning, you’re sitting there at the summit, above the clouds - we had to go through waist-deep snow to get there, which is neck deep for me - that was incredible,” he said. “It was really just incredibly tranquil, so calm and peaceful.”
Maynard, who had once again conquered that which had seemed invincible, hopes that his journey inspires others to similar ends.
“Over the course of our lives, there’s various times that are a call to adventure, and you’ve got to decide whether or not you answer it or whether you let it go,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to take the first step and take the leap of faith to do it.”
I jokingly asked if we would ever see him on the slopes of Everest. Although he has other things on his list - he has “adventure ADD,” after all - he is not nearly as hesitant as I anticipated.
“It’s funny, because our guide (Cherilla) said that the only way he would go back to Everest is if his kids do it, or if I want to,” he said pensively. “He’s an amazing climber, and he’d be a great asset.”
The wheels are already turning. With Kyle Maynard, that means “watch out.”