Standing Strong with Nick
Nick Vujicic can’t say what it’s like to run sand through his fingers, to step on hot pavement or bump his knee on a bedpost. But, he can say what it’s like to jump from a plane 13,000 feet above ground, swim in a glass tank surrounded by sharks and meet 13 world leaders. And while he can’t shake your hand during an introduction or connect with you at eye level, he’ll likely demand a hug and meet you below eye level – right at the heart.
When Nick Vujicic was 18 months old, his father taught him to float in water. When Vujicic was 6 years old, he learned to swim. When he was 10 years old, he tried to drown himself in the bathtub at his Australian home. “I looked at my life and thought I’d just be alone … a burden to my parents, not get married, basically I was disabled with the fear of being alone,” he says.
Vujicic was born without arms, legs or an explanation, because his older siblings had limbs and his mother’s ultrasounds revealed no complications. And while he decided against ending his life that day, mostly because he didn’t want to leave his parents with the pain, he never told anyone he’d considered suicide until a decade later.
Vujicic believes most children – like him – don’t tell anyone they’ve had suicidal thoughts. Yet, large percentages have had them.
Vujicic has stepped back from that brink. He is now a motivational speaker who’s been to 54 countries and traveled three million miles around the world. During presentations, Vujicic conducts anonymous surveys polling high schools. Through presentations, he’s found that 20 percent of teenagers in America have thought about suicide and 11 to 12 percent have attempted suicide. He also found that 40 percent attempt suicide because of abuse at home and 40 percent attempt suicide because of bullying at school.
Vujicic’s goal is to sway others from making the decision he almost made, and the next state he plans to impact is Florida.
WHO IS NICK?
Nick Vujicic reclines on a pastel, L-shaped couch in a private Jupiter home. His Australian accent flows from beneath the brim of his ball cap, which he claims hides horrific hat hair – the outcome of all-day travel. He’s only been in Florida for a few hours. In fact, just this morning, he was in Dallas dropping off his wife, Kanae, and 2-year-old son, Kiyoshi. While Kanae travels with Vujicic a majority of the time, she’s 19-weeks pregnant with the couple’s second boy, which keeps her with family in Texas.
After landing in Florida, Vujicic’s first stop was at Jupiter High School for a follow-up questionnaire to the presentation he’d given in January. The school system was on spring break during this Wednesday morning in March, but more than 30 students showed up. Yes. Thirty teenagers were present – at school – during their spring break – just to see Vujicic again.
A student told Vujicic that after his presentation, one of her peers who was always bullied wasn’t being picked on anymore. “The bullies stopped bullying him and now he could shine. He could just be him and be OK with being him,” Vujicic says. “Huge.”
There’s something about Vujicic that others gravitate toward – almost in competition for his attention. Perhaps it’s the confidence he exudes, the authentic attention he pays to others or the aura he gives off that makes it believable that he’s tapped a deeper meaning. Through conversation, it becomes apparent he’s a person who’s spent a great deal of time in his own head. He has an obvious intelligence and easily understands others.
Vujicic grew up somewhat alienated in the school system. He was the first disabled student to attend a public school in Australia. “When I was 8 years old, I went into a depression because of the bigger questions in life: Who am I? Why am I here? Will I [always be] bullied and rejected?” Vujicic says.
He felt this way throughout grade school, middle school and into high school.
After class let out, Vujicic would wait about an hour for his taxi to appear outside and take him home. So, he’d hang out with the school janitor, Arnold.
“One day, he looked at me and he said, ‘One day, you’re going to be a speaker,’ and I said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Vujicic says.
Arnold pestered Vujicic to stop by a student support group that met on Fridays to share his story. Vujicic said, “No way.” But after three months of nagging from Arnold, Vujicic gave in – “because he was annoying me,” Vujicic says with a smirk.
There were about 10 other teens in the room and Vujicic spoke for five to 10 minutes.
“One girl was crying and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I was just touched.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean, who touched you?’ You know, I didn’t understand. And so, I realized that hope could be communicated and from being once a child who felt like there was no hope, [to] now communicating hope and seeing one receive hope, it just blew my mind.”
From age 17 to 19, Vujicic made 12 presentations, and then he continued speaking as much as possible while enrolled at Griffith University in Australia for a double degree in accounting and financial planning.
Vujicic never really put his degrees to practice, because he was becoming more and more passionate about his motivational speaking. It’s also what led him to meet his wife in 2008. Vujicic’s friend tried to set him up with Kanae’s sister at a speaking engagement in Dallas. But it was Vujicic and Kanae who had the connection.
“[It was] love at first sight, but it took six months before we started dating, and for that, you’ll have to read the book,” Vujicic says, referencing the publication he and his wife wrote together last year titled Love Without Limits – one of multiple books Vujicic has released.
He’s also launched a program he hopes to install in each of the 50 states called Stand Strong. Just last year, Vujicic brought his campaign to Indiana where he spoke at 276 schools, reaching about 356,000 teenagers in middle and high school.
STAND STRONG FLORIDA
“Hi, how are you doing?”
This text message conversation was shared between 22,000 students in Indiana and emergency response personnel last year. Ten of these chats led to 911 calls necessary for interference with a teen’s plan to end his or her life.
Vujicic facilitated this connection between students and help.
At the end of each presentation at middle and high schools, Vujicic provides a number to text if students want to engage in a discussion. Their only instruction is to send the word “STRONG,” which is answered with the simple, open-ended question.
“[If we don’t provide a resource] all we’ve done is create hope and not tell people how to achieve it,” says Roy Moore, who leads the Stand Strong movement in Florida.
Moore first heard about Vujicic in September of 2012 when an acquaintance mentioned Vujicic’s first book, Life Without Limits, as a suggested read.
Shortly after reading, Moore, a serial entrepreneur of about 25 years, quit his corporate job and took a “bucket list” trip to Australia with his wife. An impossibly coincidental amount of people the couple came in contact with during the trip had been affected by suicide. Having had their own bouts with the issue in their family, Moore says he and his wife were “over there thinking ‘OK, we got the message.’”
Last August, the father of three and grandfather of four caught wind that Vujicic was coming to town to discuss bringing Stand Strong to Florida, so he stepped up as president of the organization.
Stand Strong Florida is built solely for the purpose of resource gathering. It builds the emergency response team and accepts donations to fund resources, presentations and marketing efforts.
The goal in Florida is to have a half-million teens hear Vujicic’s message – whether that’s through a presentation at their school, or a live streaming. The team hopes to host a culminating event in November, when Vujicic plans to share his message of hope with 30,000 people from the local community at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton.
And of all people, Vujicic is the most appropriate to deliver this message. From facing his dark moment more than two decades ago to accomplishing more than he ever thought possible, Vujicic is a living example of hope.
“Never give up on even your broken pieces,” he says. “We all have broken pieces, right? We’ve all failed some way. People have failed us, at times. Dreams fail. Hopes fade, sometimes. And so, don’t give up, because you don’t know what beautiful things can come from your broken pieces until you give your broken pieces a chance.”
To help Vujicic and his team reach teens throughout Florida, Stand Strong Florida is asking supporters to make donations. Money raised goes toward school event production, support and intervention for students, and program awareness and marketing efforts.
Life Without Limbs, P.O. Box 2430, Agoura Hills, CA 91376 / 855.303.5433 / lifewithoutlimbs.org