Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic feared he would always be a burden to his parents. He worried, too, that he would never find a woman to love him unconditionally. The thoughts haunted him even as a young child.
By the time he was 10, he recalled, he tried to end his life. “I couldn’t see hope,” he’s said. “I’m so thankful I’m still here because I didn’t give up.”
What sustained him through a painful adolescence were loving parents he calls heroes. Born to Serbian refugees in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, Vujicic’s father started his own church, working three jobs to support his family.
“They always said ‘You can be angry for what you don’t have, or grateful for what you do have.’”
Gratitude became his mantra. Encouraged by a high school janitor to share his story with others, Vujicic’s first speaking engagement came at age 17. Two years later, while in college earning a double degree in accounting and financial planning, he began talking to students about self-esteem issues, bullying, eating disorders and suicide.
Those early talks became the foundation for a successful career in faith-based motivational speaking that mixes humor about his own struggles with Christian evangelism. Today, he has been featured on the TV program 20/20, recently shared a stage with Oprah Winfrey and has more than 5.2 million Facebook fans.
The 30-year-old is already a prolific writer, a New York Times best-selling author, and now a husband and father. Vujicic and his wife, Kanea, have written a new book “Love Without Limits: A Remarkable Story of True Love Conquering All.” In the book, available Nov. 18, the couple talk about what drew them together and the struggles they grappled with before marriage.
Nick Vujicic is the featured speaker Friday evening for the second annual Bay of the Holy Spirit Jubilee, a fundraiser for the Good Life Foundation held at Fairhope United Methodist Church’s Christian Life Center.
Vujicic also will be one of the authors featured during the Junior League of Mobile’s 30th annual Christmas Jubilee at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 15 at The Grounds off Zeigler Boulevard in west Mobile. Admission is $10 to the Saturday event.
Karin Wilson, owner of Page and Palette, who worked to bring Vujicic to coastal Alabama for the speaking engagement Friday, said she’s looking forward to hearing him in person: “He really does speak to all walks of life. I think the biggest message he has is regardless of the hand you are dealt, it is all about your attitude about life, it is all about being content with what you have. With everything he has done and his strong faith, he really can teach us a lot about what love really is.”
While he doesn’t have arms or legs, Vujicic has small feet (one is more prominent than the other) that allow him to walk short distances. He can also hop up stairs, kick a soccer ball and dive backwards into a swimming pool. His left foot is larger and has two toes. He stands on a desk and uses his toes to type more than 40-words-per-minute on his iMac. While he can also use a pen, swim and even surf, there are some things he must rely on others to do for him such as brushing his teeth, cooking and, of course, driving a car.
At home in southern California and during his travels, Vujicic uses a specially designed motorized chair to get most places. He’s visited more than 50 countries, met nine heads of state at last count and had spoken to crowds as large as 110,000. More than 30 million people have viewed his YouTube videos. His books have been translated into more than two dozen languages.
For several years, a film crew has followed him around, taping segments for his mission-based website Life without Limbs, which is also the nonprofit organization he leads in Los Angeles. Recent footage showed him on a tour of Mexico in late October, with thousands cramming into outdoor sports arenas to listen to his words of hope and healing.
“You will not reach your full potential until you seek it,” he shouted to a group in one of his taped messages. “You will not seek it until you believe it’s there.”
His camera crew will accompany him to Fairhope for an upcoming web series that begins in December, organizers said.
Baldwin County teen to meet Vujicic Friday
When he’s on the Eastern Shore later this week, Vujicic is planning to meet with a Daphne High School senior, Chrysalis Faith Nowell, who was born with arthrogryposis.
Arthrogryposis is a term used to describe a number of rare conditions characterized by stiff joints, also known as contractures, and abnormally developed muscles. People with the condition typically have joints that don’t move as much as normal and may even be stuck in one position. Often the muscles around these joints are thin, weak, stiff or missing.
Known as Chrysa by family and friends, the 18-year-old also uses a motorized chair because she is unable to walk on her own. An active member of her school’s competitive swim team, she was recognized earlier this week by her teammates for her drive and determination.
“I wanted to be part of something,” she said. “I tried to figure out what could be the best for me. I asked coach (Bryan Hunter) just to practice with them and he said, ‘You are going to swim.’’’
For her, the act of swimming is freeing.
“I just feel mobilized. I’ve never been able to move the way I do when I’m in the water. I’m not strapped to a chair. I’m not relying on technology to take me where I want to go.”
On a recent Tuesday evening at the Fairhope Recreation Center, Chrysa was helped into the Olympic-size pool by her coach and two teammates. While she can’t swim as fast as those with full use of their arms and legs, she never quits. This night was no exception. When the buzzer sounded, she lunged forward, face above the water, determination flashing across her features. As the seconds ticked by, people began gathering at the side of the pool where she swam, literally leaning over the edge into her lane as they cheered for her. As the other swimmers finished, hundreds of people who had gathered there from two counties all clapped and yelled for Chrysa.
“It’s like this every time,” a woman said, nodding. “Every time.”
After the race, Chrysa said the cheering crowd helps her stay focused on finishing: “It’s like, wow. I have all these people here to support me. It’s a really awesome feeling.”
Back in her chair as the swim meet continued that night, several people stopped to talk with Chrysa, letting her know what an inspiration she is to them.
“I hear it at least three times a week,” she said, smiling. “I don’t think you ever get used to that. When you know you can help people try harder, it’s really exciting.”
The youngest of three sisters, Chrysa plans to enter college next fall and wants to pursue a career in childhood education. Her teachers and coaches, she said, have pushed her in positive ways to help her reach her full potential.
“It’s really welcoming to me,” Chrysa said of her high school swim coach. “He just puts me in the pool and tells me to ‘Go, go, go.’ If I say ‘I’m tired,’ he says ‘That’s good.’ ”
Chrysa said her mother, Angel, has encouraged her to be as independent as possible. Even her given name, Chrysalis, hints at a remarkable transformation.
“It stands for the stage of the butterfly when it gets its wings,” she said. “Which is saying ‘I’m still in progress. I’m about to grow my wings.’”
While Chrysa looks to the future, Vujicic has plans to keep sharing his story of overcoming obstacles with audiences around the world.
“This world really needs hope,” he said in a recent interview. “I love people because there is power in loving people. The power of encouragement can save someone’s life.”
What makes your life ‘ridiculously good?’
Editor’s Note: Lagniappe and Page and Palette teamed up for the “Ridiculously Good Life Essay Contest.” This contest is Part of Page and Palette’s 2nd Annual Bay Jubilee, which will be held on Friday, Nov. 14 at The Christian Life Center at 6 p.m. in Fairhope. This year’s speaker will be Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs, but despite his disabilities, says he has had a “ridiculously good life.” So we asked people in our area to tell us what makes their life “ridiculously good.” The overall winner was Hannah Denham of Fairhope.
Overall Winner Hannah Denham of Fairhope, Alabama
Age 16: Young Adult Category
First off, I’m not sure if any extension of myself can be defined as “ridiculous.” I’m not even clear about what constitutes “good.” But I can say that I have lived, and am living, and will continue to live, and maybe that is what I am searching to define.
I’m bound to this planet that is hurling itself through the universe in a misshapen circle around this omnipotent ball of fire. Supposedly we’re traveling fast but because of this thing called gravity, it’s a process. About once or twice a month, this – my existence – hits me. It sinks like copy paper in air or something gradual in water.
“I am alive,” I think. “I am living. And greater than just existing, I am self-aware.”
The thing about self-awareness is that once it occurs to your brain that it is thinking, your heart that it is beating, your arms that they are reaching – there is no more room for going through the motions. No more room for routine. I have a whole life ahead of me.
The best part is that life isn’t defined by time, but more so by impact, exchange, desire, interaction, hope. I have no control over how many years I have left to live ridiculously well. But I do have the motive and the means to achieve it.
Nick Vujicic, best-selling author of “Unstoppable” and the new book “Love Without Limits” will speak at the Christian Life Center at Fairhope United Methodist Church, 155 S. Section St., at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14 during the Bay of the Holy Spirit Jubilee author event, a fundraiser for the Good Life foundation. Tickets are available at www.itickets.com and through Page and Palette Bookstore in Fairhope.
Individual tickets are $25 and include admission to the feature event and one copy of “Love Without Limits.”
Couple tickets are available for $35 and include admission for two to the event, one copy of “Love Without Limits” and a $10 coupon to be used toward the purchase of an additional copy of “Love Without Limits.”
Family ticket packages may be purchased for $45 and include admission for two adults and two children (under 18), one copy of “Love Without Limits” and a $10 coupon that can be used to purchase an additional copy of Love Without Limits. (Tickets are $5 for each additional family member under age 18).
Email Karin Wilson at [email protected] for group rates.