Nicholas Vujicic has come to realise that even if you don’t receive a miracle in life yourself, you can still be a miracle for someone else.
The 34-year-old motivational speaker was born with phocomelia, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of arms and legs.
Vujicic, who is from Melbourne, Australia, is currently on a speaking tour of the UAE. On Thursday he addressed 2,500 students at the Expo Center in Sharjah and on Friday he is speaking at a public Night of Hope event at the Dome, Dubai Sports City, on how to draw on inner strength to instigate positive change.
Despite having no limbs, there’s surprisingly little that Vujicic can’t do in life. As well as being happily married with two sons – aged 1 and 3 – he can swim (and even backflip from a diving board), has a degree in accounting, and has delivered inspiring talks in more than 57 countries.
Vujicic was six when he first realised he was different to other children.
“I attended a mainstream school where I was bullied for not having any arms or legs,” he says. “I was depressed as a kid, and at the age of 10 I tried to end my life. But because of the love of my family, I decided not to. My parents always made me feel loved and cared for, and didn’t treat me different than my siblings. I had my chores to do around the house, and they taught me to work hard and never give up.”
Vujicic also credits his parents with encouraging him to be able to live as independently as possible. “They set up different devices in the shower like a foam shampoo foot pump, which enabled me to wash my own hair. Just a few adaptations, so I could ultimately take care of myself in the mornings.”
Vujicic’s older brother Aeron assumed the role of caretaker at a young age, helping him with anything from fetching a glass of water to getting him ready in the mornings. “My brother was always struggling to find his individuality, in the shadow of being ‘Nick’s brother’. But today we are best friends.”
Vujicic has two small and deformed feet, one of which he calls his “chicken drumstick” because of its shape. When he was born, the toes of that foot were fused, but surgery was performed to separate the digits so that he could use them as fingers to grab, or turn a page.
Even though he could now turn pages, Vujicic admits he was never a bookworm. “I like football and outdoor sports a lot, as well as computer games and movies.”
At 17, Vujicic formed a friendship with his school janitor, who told him he would one day become a speaker. “I thought he was crazy,” Vujicic recalls. “He invited me to speak in front of a small group of students, and they were touched. Then I found myself in front of 300 students sharing my story, and one girl came up and thanked me crying, saying that no one had ever told her she was loved or beautiful. That’s when I knew I wanted to share the message of hope and love with the world.”
Vujicic met his wife Kanae Miyahara at a speaking engagement in Dallas, Texas, and the pair recently released a book together called Love Without Limits. “She is my miracle,” says Vujicic. Proposing might seem tricky for someone with no arms, but Vujicic found a way around it. “[The ring was] in a cream puff, so when she gave me the cream puff to take a bite of, the ring was in it, and I could put it on her finger that way.”
After their first son was born, Vujicic was overjoyed — but apprehensive. “It was scary when the questions came to my mind like ‘how am I going to hold my boy?’ And ‘how is my wife going to do it all on her own?’” Much of the responsibility fell on his wife’s shoulders. “I cannot do most things for him, but as he is getting older we are interacting, playing and reading books together.”
Vujicic is sometimes approached for advice by parents of children with disabilities. He tells them to remember that every child is a gift wrapped in their unique package. “Sometimes life throws you curveballs, but please parents make sure you intentionally plant seeds of love and encouragement into your child’s life. The seeds of hope, which grew over time, was what helped me.”
• Catch Nicholas Vujicic’s Night of Hope on Friday, November 18, at The Dome, Dubai Sports City, from 7pm to 10pm. Tickets, starting from Dh150, can be bought from Platinum List.