Born without limbs, Nick Vujicic once contemplated suicide as a 10-year-old suffering from bullying and self-rejection.
Now 31, Vujicic has developed into a motivational speaker who has addressed millions of people in more than 44 countries with a message of hope and inspiration.
His next stop: Maui.
Motivational speaker Nick Vujicic surfs off Oahu in 2009. Vujicic was born with a rare disorder that left him without arms and legs. He will be speaking to nine schools on Maui next month, with a free public appearance 6 to 8 p.m. April 6 at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku.
DAVID GAVRILOVIC photo
Motivational speaker Nick Vujicic with his wife, Kanae. The couple has a 13-month-old son, Kyoshi.
DAVID GAVRILOVIC photo
The Australian-born Vujicic will be speaking to thousands of Valley Isle students from Wednesday to April 7. His stops include Hana High & Elementary School, Baldwin High School, Lahainaluna High School, Maui Preparatory Academy, Seabury Hall, King Kekaulike High School, Kamehameha Schools Maui, Maui High School and St. Anthony Junior Senior High School.
He also will give a free talk from 6 to 8 p.m. April 6 at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku.
Vujicic's story began in Melbourne, where he was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs. He struggled to understand why he was born the way he was, while his younger siblings were perfectly normal.
"I was praying for a miracle, and the miracle didn't come," he said in a phone interview Monday. "I was getting bullied at school, and I didn't know why I was the one that had less."
While Vujicic grew up in a loving family and credits his parents for trying to raise him the same as any other child, he became deeply depressed at 8 years old. Two years later, he decided to end his life by drowning himself in a bathtub.
"I came to a loving home, but I could not get away from that fear" and rejection, he said. "I tried to drown myself . . . but stopped because I didn't want to give that pain to my parents."
Although Vujicic does not have legs, he can still move upright on his upper thighs and has a small foot he uses for typing, writing and swimming.
At 13, he learned a valuable lesson after breaking his foot while playing soccer.
"It was the first time I felt handicapped," he said, surmising that he began to feel grateful for the things he could do rather than what he could not.
By the time Vujicic reached high school, his family had moved to California and he became deeply religious.
"My spirit had healed, and I was lacking nothing," he said.
His life would, again, change forever after a janitor continually encouraged him to speak about his faith and perseverance, which he did at 17. He gave his largest talk in front of 300 sophomores that left many crying and hugging him.
Since then, the evangelical Christian has spread a message of anti-bullying and strong families.
"It's worse being in a broken home than having no arms and legs," he said. "Not knowing what to do and looking for affirmation and value - that's insecurity. We need to bring in the value and importance of family time and not just assuming that our kids know we love them."
Hawaii's attempted suicide rates for high school students rank slightly above the national average, according to a 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the categories, the state ranked ninth in prevalence of those considering suicide (16.1 percent) and second for those making a plan to kill themselves (15 percent). Also, female student percentages nearly double that of males.
Vujicic pointed to bullying as one of the chief reasons he contemplated suicide and why students continue to do the same.
"It was really hard to ignore the bullying and find my purpose and place in this world," he said. "My parents were my anchors in encouraging me and got me to look at" life differently.
"Family is where it begins and bullying starts in the home sometimes."
Vujicic recently spoke to students at Kauai High School, where he had them close their eyes and raise their hands if they had tried to commit suicide due to bullying. Forty students raised their hands.
"Then what I normally do is get anyone who can state that they're a bully, and be honest with themselves and not want to bully anymore," he said. "One person stood up. It was one of the most disheartening talks I've had.
"Forty kids have tried to commit suicide, and bullying is happening like crazy, but no one cares enough to want to make a difference," he said. "If we want to make a difference in the world we need to start now."
Vujicic is on Oahu speaking at schools and churches and before other groups, including an event Sunday at Aloha Stadium where he hopes to reach tens of thousands of people.
The trip to the islands is his third with his wife, Kanae. They brought their 13-month-old son, Kyoshi.
Vujicic's cousin, David Gavrilovic, makes arrangements for his appearances. He said Vujicic has had to set boundaries around his speaking schedule, where "he used to say yes to everything."
With respect to his trip to Hawaii, Gavrilovic said: "He's finding a lot more people trying to give up, saying that they don't want to live anymore."
"There's a lot of pain and hurt in the local communities. It's pretty unbelievable," he said. Vujicic "has a real heart and love for the state, and we wish we could reach all the islands. But he's trying to do one island at a time."
For his talk next month at War Memorial Gym, attendees are asked to bring canned food donations for the Maui Food Bank.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.