November 8th, 2011
07:56 AM ET

Human Factor: A goal is a direction, not an end

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week meet Kyle Maynard. Despite being born without arms or legs, Maynard has played football, wrestled, and he's hoping to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.

Since I opened the doors to No Excuses CrossFit, a small gym in an Atlanta suburb three years ago, I’ve come to learn that fitness instructors are closer in their roles to being a life coach or psychologist than someone solely focused on a workout regimen. The best trainers understand there is a massive amount of motivation required to start, let alone stick to, any plan.

One of the reasons we require so much motivation to start on the path to improving our health is that we build up a huge lie in our minds of how improbable or even impossible reaching our goals will be. We think about how hard it’s going to be to resist dessert or how much time exercising is going to take away from our lives. Then to make matters worse, we say things like “I have to lose 10 pounds in the next month.”

Have you ever thought about the bind that puts your mind in? Let’s say you succeed in that goal and lose the weight, now what do you do? Stop working out and go back to your old habits, eventually putting the weight back on? What happens if you don’t succeed - do you call yourself a failure?

Your goals should serve you, not work against you. They should provide you with a general direction and not be your end all be all.

I’ve coached people who lost several pants sizes, but because they didn’t reach their weight goal by a few pounds, they became so discouraged they quit. And I know of several more who reached their goal, but since they didn’t know where to go after that, a few weeks later they were back where they started.

If I choose to enjoy the ride and concern myself less with a specific outcome or goal, then I cannot fail. If my goal is to enjoy the path I’m on, whether that’s in my health or really any area of my life, then all I have to do is show up.

Several years ago I became very interested in mountaineering and around six months ago I set the goal to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Climbing Kili is a challenging goal for most people, and being a quadruple amputee without anyone to consult on how to pull this off doesn’t make it much easier.

Dating back to 2006, my first pair of hiking shoes were made from a pair of hotel towels that I tied to my arms using a rope I cut off the back of my wheelchair. The towels enabled me to crawl on all four limbs without cutting my arms open on the rock. And after obliterating a pair of blue jeans, I made it up to a peak that was somewhere around 1,500 feet high.

Kilimanjaro’s summit is a little bit higher... right at 19,340 feer. I never said I wasn’t one of the people thinking some of my goals might be improbable or even impossible at times.

Throughout the whole process there have been close to a dozen different attempts at adapting equipment and many of those resulted in painful failures. Each time we failed trying something new, we moved on to try something else. We’ve made small, incremental improvements over time and the whole process has been a rewarding challenge. Now we’re about two months away from our time on the mountain and we’ve finally gotten to a point where the gear is beginning to work.

It’s always going to be the same in your life too. We’ll never be where we want to be until we learn to slow down and enjoy our individual journey. As long as you are doing something to move towards the direction you want to go in your life and your health, you cannot fail.

If you’d like to learn more about my trip, please visit www.missionkilimanjaro.com

Watch Human Factor weekly on "Sanjay Gupta, M.D.," Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET

soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    I have nothing but admiration for those men and women who over come their physical limitations and show others that the impossible is not what it seems. But what about those who over come obstacles that are mental in nature. Maybe over coming a phobia, learning how to speak without lisping, learning to speak while deaf etc.Their hardships are just as great.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ibivi

    I admire your determination but I would advise against your wish to climb that mountain. The reserves of energy that you have would be quickly depleted by the enormous effort it takes to ascend. The effects on your body could also be harmful in the long run. I think we have a tendency these days to go beyond our limits because of advances in health and equipment. Take care.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lenforkas

      You should talk to Neil Duncan. Neil is a triple amputee who was injured in Afghanistan several years ago, He failed to summit Kili several years ago but returned with several other vets with similar injuries and prevailed. Specifically he was granted some relief by the government to permit a higher base camp to the summit than non challenged athletes. His story is inspiring, especially the idea that he refused to give up after failing the first time. http://www.aolnews.com/2010/08/12/three-us-war-vet-amputees-climb-kilimanjaro/

      April 25, 2012 at 09:22 | Report abuse |
  3. ctb67

    I just want to know...why????? Just because you have a physical disability doesn't mean you have to excel at physical stuff. Maybe fate made you that way so you could use your mind and find the cure for cancer. It's like me, having facial scars, going out and trying my best to be the best runway model in the world....Just doesn't make sense to me. Why do we concentrate on the physical and not the spiritual or mental????

    November 8, 2011 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim P.

      Because he wants to, that's why. And that's a damn fine reason for something like this. Maybe someone told him that he is wrong to even consider this and he should accept his limiations humbly. Hogwash.

      Sitting around trying to figure out what "fate" or "god" or what have you wants out of you is foolish. A sentient person makees their own fate. Whether he suceeds or fails is almost immaterial, the fact thet he refused to let his handicap stop him from trying something is what makes me proud to be a human.

      Even the gods fear us once we set our minds on something. "Come now, we must go down and prevent this thing. For once they build this tower, they will know there is nothing they cannot accomplish on their own." (Old Testament)

      November 8, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      well this is plain and simple vanity and ego... if he had all his limbs intact, maybe climbing mount k would be the last thing on his mind. But this is a common behaviour amongst us humans... we need that ego fed. If he makes it, good for him...but if he doesn't, i won't cry about it. He should know the risks and if he chooses to risk his health and become a burden later on to his family and friends, then so be it.

      Maybe he can be an example to others who mope around and steal my oxygen... people like this can serve as an inspiration to many out there.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
    • BeenThere

      To ctb67: There are far too many of us who are content to sit in the bleachers and play "all-knowing". Climbing is not about ego, it is about preparation, very hard work and finding out if you have the will and perseverance to do things that truly tests oneself. So, please stay the bleacher creature you are, meditate, observe and continue to judge people from your lfairly imited view of a life lived. And, don't post again, you are taking up too much of the ether.

      November 9, 2011 at 08:21 | Report abuse |
    • Lwinnswife

      You miss the point altogether sister. Success should not be measured by heights attained but BY OBSTACLES OVERCOME!
      And FYI: It has everything in the world to do with SPIRITUAL development.

      Your spiritual development could work on empathy. Lack of empathy is ALSO A HANDICAP!

      November 9, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
    • Trisha Pedraza-Gomez

      You can't go through life quitting everything. If you're going to achieve anything, you've got to stick with something. ~From the television show Family Matters

      What if this is something "spiritual or mental" for him? Maybe this mission will help him through something as well as the others? You never know what someone is going through don't assume otherwise.

      Great job Kyle. I'm with you all the way, you have my full support and I have passed the word on to my friends and family in the military and medical fields. So proud to have known you and to see you come such a long way. I agree with Jim P. Keep moving forward!

      November 11, 2011 at 22:09 | Report abuse |
  4. Relictus

    This article changed my mind. I thought (at first) that this guy was a poser, but he is not. He makes good sense. Plus, he is willing to share what he knows. Thanks.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Djdoubleyew

    He was "born without arms or legs." Yet somehow he's a quadruple amputee.

    November 8, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • larlarme

      maybe he had his stumps shortened. gives him a lower center of balance

      November 9, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
    • mel

      Definition for congenital amputee:
      Web definitions:
      Individual born missing a limb(s). Technically, these individuals are not Amputees, but are considered to be "Limb Deficient.”.

      November 10, 2011 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
  6. joey.s

    Good luck...seriously but don't start calling for help if you get stuck up their or otherwise you will be getting the bill. Love your spirit nonetheless.

    November 8, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. stepasidesue

    What about the 100 people (no disabilities) stuck on Mount Everest. I say leave them there. I don't understand why people do these things and what they get out of it. Go back home and spend some QUALITY time with your family. Better use of time and energy, not to mention the incredible expense. Give the money to the homeless or starving children. If I met anyone that did this kind of thing, I would walk away as I try not to deal with ignorance.

    November 8, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay

      Sounds like you need to walk away from youself then if you do not want to deal with ignorance! Why do you think you can judge why someone does something? What gives you this great wisdom? And as far as how someone spends their money that is their business since it is THEIR MONEY!!!

      November 8, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
  8. Huh?

    Good luck to him, but if somebody is BORN without arms or legs, does that make them an amputee??

    November 8, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jim P.

    Damn! You go, sir!

    Just as we are all diminshed by human failings, we are all uplifted by courage and determination of this sort.

    There is nothing a human cannot do if they have the determination and willpower.

    May success attend your every venture and may your life be full and may you prosper in all things you attempt.

    Sometims it is good to be part of the human race.

    November 8, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kyle Maynard

      Thank you, Jim. Your message is a perfect representation of the spirit and purpose of this journey.

      November 11, 2011 at 19:17 | Report abuse |
  10. StIG

    He is a congenital amputee. It is a medical term- it is not an 'amputation' in the traumatic sense, but a developmental amputation. Best of luck Kyle! I believe Kyle Maynard has also written a book called 'No Excuses' that is a great read.

    November 8, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. cause he can

    What negative, judgmental jerks on here - he isn't talking about somebody else's obstacles, money or desires - he's talking about HIS! Step down off your high horses or better yet go attempt an achievement of your own and open yourself up to the harsh judgment you are heaping on this guy!

    November 8, 2011 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dave ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Hey guys, will you visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of mine is fighting for her life.. Thanks

    November 9, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mdchick

    You, Sir, are an inspiration. Good luck in your journey.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mdchick

    For those of you critizating the terminology, whan was the last time you got of your couch and went climbing, hiking, or done half of the things Maynard has accomplished? I also wonder how many of you even know where Kilimanjaro is. Stop critizating, and see the inspiration in this man. Shame on you. I pity your narrow minds.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ed

    This guy has cast-iron clackers and obviously he's lived more than a lot of the posters here.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Russell Colvin

      Cram it, Ed. Let's see this guy do a Rubik's Cube.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
  16. jim

    i mean, its pretty badass that he still climbs, but i really dont understand playing football. he literally did nothing until two people fell onto him. you cant run or really be a threat to anyone. but on another note, watching him climb reminds me of the end of episode 3.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ash

      Have you ever seen him wrestle...he was a stud! He is also a CrossFit beast. There are no limitations for Kyle...he is a phenomenal athlete and great person.

      November 9, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
    • Trisha Pedraza-Gomez

      Well said Ash!

      November 11, 2011 at 22:13 | Report abuse |
  17. Jeff Wright

    To those who find faults in an inspiring story, you have one f$%$ up life and thinking. Think about it more if you can't figure out the good message this brings then you are hopeless in life.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dk

      Honestly... the good message is that glad I wasn't born like that.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
  18. dk

    So he's got a hobby. so what...

    November 9, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jim-bob daily

    come on lieutenant dan u can make it

    November 9, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. aubrie

    I'd be curious to ask him why he never opted for prostheses. His upper leg strength seems like he could easily have adapted to that. Personal choice? Not an option?

    November 9, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. boulderb

    I climbed Kilimanjaro one year ago. As far as I know, I'm the only diabetic cancer survivor to climb one of the seven summits but this is not the reason I climbed Kilimanjaro. I climbed because I was given a second chance at life (and 3rd) and I intend to live it to the fullest. I have a new appreciation for the experiences and people in my life. I applaud this man for climbing. He has nothing to proving he is simply living his life. Best of luck!

    November 9, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Trisha Pedraza-Gomez


      November 11, 2011 at 22:11 | Report abuse |
  22. tracie

    What's wrong with sitting home watching TV?

    November 9, 2011 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dk

      Nothing as long as that's not all you do.

      November 9, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse |
  23. dudley0415

    My first reaction to this was not completely positive, but it is social suicide to have any opinion that may be construed as negative about handicapped persons.

    This is what I learned from this article.

    November 9, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Russell Colvin

      Come a goblin, come a greenie,
      Come an elf, and come a teeny,
      Come about, come about, come about all.
      Up the path the moonlight makes on the mountain snow
      And we will see the little men,
      And them at their bowls and singing ang dancing.
      And we'll join them, son.
      Up the path the moonlight makes on the mountain snow.

      November 9, 2011 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
  24. Robert B

    I"m summiting 27 Dec.I'll keep a look out for ya.

    November 9, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Camille Toh

    Whats not stated is that Kyle will have an unfair advantage on the Everest climb. Where others will have to watch out for and manage frostbite of the fingers and toes, Kyle will not!

    November 9, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Quincey9

    It seems that arms and legs aren't as important as a pair of balls.

    November 9, 2011 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. M

    Wow... I am shocked at all the nasty comments made towards this guy's dream to accomplish something most people with limbs would never even attempt. You're all weak-minded, hateful trolls.

    Good luck in your journey, Kyle.

    November 9, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Russell Colvin

      Good luck ON your journey, Kyle.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • Lizzie Adams

      I am deeply touched and inspired by you and your purpose.
      You have an AMAZING presence and embody such realness and goodness.
      THANKYOU for being you and for the courage 7 willingness to keep on keeping on!
      I stand with you and for you!
      My very best,

      November 15, 2011 at 17:47 | Report abuse |
  28. Darlene Whitehurst

    Kyle, you are an inspiration to us all! You are on my list of very influential people in this world. Best wishes for your safety and to your success! I will be following your progress. Darlene Whitehurst Raleigh, NC

    November 10, 2011 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Christopher Dycha

    The source for inspiration can come from anywhere. Keep an open mind and positive disposition. The reasons and excuses we give to justify why something can't be done is endless. The self gratifying feeling you get when you reach a hard earned goal can't be bought. Christopher Dycha

    November 11, 2011 at 07:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. ram serrano

    Why Mt. Kilimanjaro? Why not Mt.Everest?

    November 11, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kyle Maynard

      It's on the radar Ram 🙂

      November 11, 2011 at 19:10 | Report abuse |
  31. Nicole

    I have been serving Kyle on and off for a year at a coffee shop and let me tell you- the energy he gives off changed my life before I knew anything else. Good luck Kyle with your training and everything! I will be giving my prayers and money for this- it's so awesome! 🙂

    November 12, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.