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Australian-born Nick Vujicic was born without arms and legs, but that has not stopped him from leading a full life. Now, 32 and founder of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Life Without Limbs and a motivational speaker, he gives hope to those born with disabilities. Married with a 2-year-old son, Vujicic is the subject of a short documentary, “Born Without Limbs,”to be aired by TLC on June 17. He shares his inspirational story with NBC’s Susan Donaldson James.
I believe there’s a reason why something happens. You do your best and trust in God and never give up. I grew up with this mindset and was thankful for what I had. Not only did my parents raise me in such a beautiful way, but they had the courage to have more children.
Mum was a midwife and she knew all about the birth process. But she had a premonition that something would go wrong in her pregnancy. She had all the ultrasounds, so it was a shock to everyone when I was born without arms and legs.
On the morning of my birth, Dad was beside her and could see my shoulder had no arm. He nearly fainted and vomited, and the nurse had to take him out of the room. I had phocemelia, no limbs, and there was no medical explanation. It wasn’t genetic and it wasn't thalidomide. They said I would be a vegetable.
My mum said, “Take him away — I don’t want to see him.” But my dad comforted her and said, “He’s beautiful.” They took me home, but it took three to four months for my mother to come to terms with it.
I tried prosthetics at 6-years-old, but after months of trying, I had already learned to do many things without them and they limited my movements.
I was the first disabled person integrated into the Australian school system. I was bullied in school. My parents said ignore them, but I didn’t want to be special. I just wanted arms and legs to and to be like everyone else.
Everyone is looking for something to make them happy — money drugs alcohol. I wanted to know I was not just a write off. Every time a kid laughed at me or excluded me from a game, that fear came back. My parents told me they would never give up on me. My home was my refuge.
When I was 10 years old I wanted to commit suicide. I felt I had no value, and I thought I would always be a burden to my parents and never get married. That was until I saw a boy with no arms and legs like me, and I knew I could help him.
As a teenager, I wanted to be as independent as I could be. My parents told me, “You don’t know what you can achieve until you try it.” I go swimming and fishing and do many things now like snowboarding and surfing. I can brush my teeth and wash my hair. In any situation, I do the best that I can. It’s not what you have, but what you do with it. I am not afraid to try and fail.
I started motivational speaking around Australia when I was 19 and then traveled the world for five years. I had relatives in California and they encouraged me to come over: “Nick, you can make your dreams come true and reach the world.” I started up Life Without Limbs, and we just celebrated our 10th anniversary.
I have traveled to 58 countries and 3 million miles — that’s no exaggeration. We are thankful to speak to world leaders, but also to orphans and the disadvantaged and forgotten. I have a caregiver to travel with me.
Talking to youth is so much fun. They are forming a concrete direction in life, their values and purpose. I say living in a broken home is worse than not having limbs.
I want them to not be afraid. It’s not about the outside. Who you are matters most. My dad said, “You are a gift, just differently packaged.”
I did get married. My wife Kanae is Japanese-American and I met her in Texas. It was love at first sight. We were so thankful we met each other. It was slow, but we couldn’t deny the chemistry.
Three months into our relationship in 2011, I went through a personal crisis. I wanted to start a couple of businesses and they failed. Then someone stole money from me. I asked my parents for money and didn’t realize that at age 28, I would tap into my depression and fear about being a burden for the rest of my life. I lost it and was crying all the time.
I didn’t think Kanae would stay. She said, “It’s OK, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll get a nursing job.” That’s when I knew she would be my wife.
Nine months later I gave her an engagement ring. One year after we were married Kiyoshi was born. He’s my shoulder height now and we give high-fives and hugs and kisses every day.
Now, I have to learn to be independent again because my wife obviously has a handful with our son, Kiyoshi. I try the best I can to help my family.
My public speaking is a non-denominational message, based on my faith in Jesus Christ. We go to corporate settings and suicide-prevention and anti-bullying programs.
I tell people to not give up. We sometimes wait for a miracle to happen in life — but the miracle never comes. I wish many things were different in my life. But knowing I can be a miracle for someone else makes my life worth living.
We all have worries. I am not a superhero. But I embrace life and focus on what is most important.