Entrepreneur, champion wrestler, New York Times-bestselling author, motivational speaker, ESPY Award winner, and the first person to crawl up Mt. Kilimanjaro—it’s a list of accomplishments you could imagine a classroom full of children reciting when asked what they want to be when they grow up.

But at 28 years old, this is Kyle Maynard’s short list… of items he’s already crossed off his bucket list.

A Georgia native recently turned Californian, Maynard says he never set out to break records. “I like to think of it all as an adventure,” he says.

According to Maynard, it’s all part of living out his mission to show people their unique purpose in life. “When you specialize in one thing, you’re forced to give up other things,” he says, describing his general philosophy. “I want to experience as much as I can instead of being the best at one thing.” 

Maynard at Kilimanjaro
Maynard climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

No question, Maynard’s accomplishments are spectacular. But what when you consider what he has overcome, he’s an inspiration. Maynard was born with congenital amputation, a rare condition affecting one in 2,000 babies. He’s also a quadruple amputee: all of his limbs end before the start of his knees and elbows.

Throughout his life, countless people have told him he couldn’t do things. Now, he’s proving them wrong. Maynard believes that too often, there’s a blurred line between acceptance and resignation. He says he knows he’ll never be an NBA basketball player, a fact he accepts. But he says resignation would be to take that inability to mean he couldn’t do anything at all.

Adopting the quote, “Know your limits but never stop trying to break them,” Maynard tuned out his naysayers and began pursuing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). He identifies wanting to be a MMA fighter as his first pursuit in doing something for himself—not to prove a point. “The biggest challenge is with ourselves,” he says. “If someone says ‘you can’t’ or tries to impede you, it comes down to whether you accept that.”

Watch Maynard’s compelling journey to compete in MMA through this Snagfilms documentary:

Leaving a Bigger Legacy

Maynard now hopes to leave a bigger legacy focused on pursing one’s dreams through his mantra of “no excuses.”

Last year, he spent 200 days on the road speaking at corporate events, grade schools, universities and programs supporting injured U.S. military veterans. Though he tailors his speeches to his audience, his message is always about building a life driven by purpose and meaning.  

Maynard at a recent speaking event.

His newest goal is to reach 1 million kids in five years through his “No Excuses Challenge.” In a digital age where millions relate to the YouTube call to “look up” from technology and pay attention, Maynard worries kids aren’t learning the soft skills needed to survive.

“It’s more than math and science,” he explains. “It’s the social skills and communications skills and self-development skills. Kids who have access to that end up excelling throughout their lifetime.”

Those beliefs fuel his passion for teaching the things he believes aren’t often taught in school: empowerment and empathy, self-efficacy and self-motivation. Knowing it won’t be sustainable for him to continue traveling half the year, Maynard hopes to harness a digital platform and use it to create an interpersonal community that fosters responsibility.

“What I want to do with the ‘No Excuses Challenge’ is to create goals for people that span 90 days with weekly checkmarks along the way,” he says. “People will be connected in a small group and keep each other accountable.”

Moving Mountains

Of course, that’s among Maynard’s many plans for the future.  He’s training to compete in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships and in a recent interview with ESPN, he announced he’s training to climb another summit in early 2015. This time his sights are set on the highest mountain in South America—the 22,840 foot peak of Mt. Aconcagua.

He says he’s not an adrenaline junkie, and memories of the hardships encountered climbing and descending (a particular challenge for his shoulders) Mt. Kilimanjaro caused him to take time off between hikes. But Maynard is looking forward to making more memories like those formed on Africa’s highest summit. One of his happiest memories was made on the way down the mountain when he and his friends cheered triumphantly after reaching the top. At the camp, someone was selling old-school glass bottles of Coca-Cola. His team of nine pulled together bits of change to buy one. They all sat around together and, despite the urge to gulp the contents of the small bottle, Maynard exercised his well-practiced-and-preached self-restraint. Each climber was then able to share one sip from the single bottle to celebrate a hard- fought journey to the top.

"A Coke has never tasted so good as it did that day," Maynard says.