Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep


Kimi Werner – a spearfisher, chef, artist and motivational speaker – shares how her underwater experiences have informed her life on land in profound ways. She recounts her opportunity to swim alongside a great white shark and how the encounter shifted her perspective on her place in the ecosystem.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 26, at 4:00 pm.


Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Audio


Download the Transcript




From the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. Um … and that’s just such a rare thing. I think a lot of times, we’re just battling these voices in our head and whatnot, and the minute my face is in the water, everything goes quiet, and I’m only focused on what’s in front of me. Then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the most relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air.


The lessons from her underwater experiences are at the heart of much of what Kimi Werner does, be it on land as an artist, a culinary expert or a public speaker, or in the ocean, hunting fish or even swimming with sharks. Kimi Werner next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberley Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, started her relationship with the ocean when she was five years old, living in Haiku, Maui. She tagged along with her father when he went spearfishing, at first staying on the surface of the water as she tried to keep up with him. She didn’t know it at the time, but he was teaching her everything she would need to know when she grew up and decided that she, too, wanted to hunt fish underwater.


Would you take us through what it’s like to take a breath, one breath, and hold it while you hunt fish, and come back with dinner?


Sure. So, I mean, basically, from the moment … from the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. And even uh, starting just to swim, you’re already hunting, because you’re observing that world so presently. And—and I’m watching the little bait fish, and they’re telling me things, you know. And I’m looking at the bottom and the structure, and the reef, and that’s like a roadmap of itself, you know. And all of it, when it comes to hunting, every single thing that you’re looking at, it’s like a little clue or a little sign telling you where you need to go. And um, and it just feels like—you know, it’s like going to a store to get groceries. Like, you know what you’re hunting for, you know what you want to come home with, and now, you’re reading all this information in front of you to lead you there. And when I finally do find the fish that I’m looking for, or I find the habitat where it looks like this fish will be, then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the more relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air to


So, there’s not—


–to do this.


–a ton of adrenalin running? I’m gonna get a fish, I’m gonna go after him, I got this one breath. Nothing like that?


For me, those are always the things I have to shut off. Because they—it—it’s right there, especially when you do come across, you know, that prize fish that you want to eat for dinner. It’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking. You already put in all this work, you don’t want to blow it. And there can be so much adrenalin running through you, and that can just suck up that oxygen so quickly if you let it. So, um, so I’ll even like, go the point of checking myself. Or if I see a really nice fish, I’ll tell myself, I’m not going down there for the fish; I’m going down there to take a nap. Like, I’ll really say that to myself in my brain. And I’ll just take a drop and get down there, and I’ll just kind of lay down and just really try and tell myself that, like, I’m just here to relax. And instantly, that’ll—


All in the space of a couple of minutes.

Right; yes. An—and that’s, I think, what really triggers the curiosity of the fish. I’m not somebody who I aggressively chase after fish. I use techniques that I’ve learned over the years that will allow the fish to come to me.


And that’s different from how other spearfishers pursue fish?


A lot of times when I go diving with other people, um, yeah, you definitely see just the aggression come through, and the adrenalin come through, and people are chasing down their fish. But um, in my opinion, I mean, you—you can’t out-swim a fish; right? So, um, it just makes so much more sense to think of techniques that are gonna bring them right to me.


So, you look harmless and relaxing.


I’ll do things. I’ll—I’ll mimic what, like, a ray looks like when it’s feeding in the bottom. And I’ll—I’ll definitely just do things to imitate other creatures, and it will pique the curiosity of the fish and bring them in. They’ll warily come in, and the whole time, your … your time is ticking, ‘cause you have to go soon. Um, and—but when the fish does come in close enough, I’ll always then just make sure that, you know, I’m in range, it’s a close shot, that I know where I’m aiming, and that I know I can pull it off. And … yeah. And then, you—you hit your target, an—and after that, it just depends if it’s a big fish, it could be a really big fight, it could be a really big struggle. Um, my goal is always to kind of make the best shot right through the brain, so it just rolls over instantly. But you don’t always get that, you know.


Do you still use three-prong spears?


I do; I do. I use—I use uh, both a spear gun and a three-prong pole spear. So, it all depends. These days, I like to just use a three-prong a lot more, just um …


Even though you have to pull back?

Yeah. I really—I really enjoy it. I—I enjoy both very much when it comes to freediving, as opposed to scuba diving, um, you know, the—I kind of feel there’s a lot less rules. Um, you don’t have to worry about going up slow, anything like that. That breath is never gonna expand be more than the breath it was when you took it at the surface. You’re a lot more limited, you may have to work a lot harder, um, but at the same time, I do feel like a—you know, less goes wrong. And um, and the same with the equipment used. I mean, obviously, there’s more efficient ways to hunt.


I have to admit that as you talk, I just feel a lot of fear for you. I fear blood from fish that you’ve speared attracting sharks in a frenzy. I fear you not realizing that your breath is up, and you black out underwater.




How do you deal with all of these things as a professional in that way?


Um, those things are all very real fears to have. I um … with sharks and whatnot, I think it just … it took repetition. I mean, after having to—to be in the water with so many sharks, you finally start getting used to it. In the beginning, uh, when—you know, I remember the first time a tiger shark just came and stole my fish, and I was just so freaked out that I just—


Did you think the shark was coming for you?


I totally thought so. I thought, like, come back and want to eat me. And I just wanted to leave everything and get to shore. Um, and … you know, and every time I’d see a shark, it was kinda my reaction, like, Oh, let’s get out of here. And—


Take my fish.


Yeah; take anything you want. You know, just don’t take me. Um, and—and then, there was just this one day where um … I don’t know; I think I had just gotten more comfortable over time and I was fighting with this fish, and this Galapagos shark came up, coming in hot to steal my fish, and just this hunter’s instinct took over me where I was just like, No, I’m sick of this. And I just grabbed my fish and pulled it in even closer to me, grabbed the fish, and just like, faced off with the shark. And as soon as I did, that shark turned and wanted nothing to do with me. And I’m not saying like, oh, everyone should do this, but I have just noticed that um, since then, like that is what I learned about sharks, is that if you … if you show them that you are the dominant predator, then they’re gonna treat you like that. And—and every single time I did the, Oh, take the fish and leave me alone, it would only get the sharks more interested in me. It would only make them that much punchier. And so—so, once I saw that—you know, and that was, like I said, just an instinct that took over, um, I let that instinct take over a lot more. And every single time a shark came around, whether I had a fish on or not, I would just really stop and see what type of energy the shark has. Are they swimming totally erratic and fast, and you know, and coming in like, with aggression, and if so, that would mean that I’d have to raise my aggression to that level. And I’m not gonna back away from it, I’m not gonna curl up and be small, because that just kind of symbolizes prey. And so, instead, if I make myself big, if I face them off, if I—


How do you make yourself big?


I mean, it’s just—mainly, it’s all body language. It really is. Uh, if a—you know, this one time, this tiger shark was coming straight at me from the surface, and I was like, Oh, god, I don’t want to do this right now, but I know from experience it’s the safest thing to do. So, I just faced off, and just swam straight at the tiger shark. And it’s like playing Chicken, and um, an—and sure enough, it just turned at the last minute and was uninterested. Um, and it’s just the same—it’s just mainly your body language, um … and—and just the direction of which you’re swimming. You know, prey usually isn’t gonna swim directly at the predator. And so, so—


So, you’re notifying the shark that you’re not prey.


Right. And then, it’s the same like when I s—talk about hunting the fish. You know, when I—when I … I’m hunting the fish, I notice that it doesn’t help me if I’m gonna swim at the fish. Because that’s just saying I’m a predator, and the fish run away.

Kimi Werner became such an accomplished free diver that she decided to test her skills on a national level. She started winning competitions and soon discovered that it created a very different relationship with the fish that she had previously hunted for food.


You were a sensation on the free diving tour competition. But then … and it looked like—I mean, you were just winning, and you were just—everyone was talking about you. And then, you dropped out of it.




What happened?
Well, that was … that was all um … the spearfishing competitions that I was doing, and which started off as such a beautiful thing for me. I had um … fallen into the hands of some really great mentors that just helped me so much, and before I knew it, you know, I just um, was becoming really good at spearfishing. And … and then, I heard of, you know, all these tournaments and stuff, and I definitely wanted to see how I measured up with other divers, and um, yeah, entered the national championships, and won that. And just went on this—


I think you won every category you—


I did.






Championship in Rhode Island.


Right; yes. And that—that was—that will always be such a special time for me. Because I set a goal, and I really wanted to go there and represent Hawaii, and just see where all of these passions, you know, could take me. And um, and everything came into play during that tournament. Everything I learned from my dad, everything I learned from other mentors, all the canoe paddling I had done. I mean, it was a kayak competition where you have six hours. And I just remember, you know, how good it felt to be on a kayak and just like … knowing my way on the ocean surface, and knowing my way underneath. And even if I wasn’t—it was my first time ever diving outside of Hawaii. It was so different, and it definitely didn’t come without struggle in my days of trying to figure it out. But on—on tournament day, everything worked out, and I ended up winning just, yeah, across the board.


And you continued to compete, and then you were done with it.


I did; I continued to compete for a while. And um … you know, that first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special. And coming back home to Hawaii was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion. And um, the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for. But um, but I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like … I just always had a title to defend, you know, or like after—you know, I—I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me. And um … and I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and all—you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food. And once I realized that, I didn’t—I didn’t like it. I just realized it’s changing me. You know, it’s changing this—this thing that’s so sacred to me. It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this. And um … and it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition, and um … and … this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again. Am I really gonna do this to it? Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing—chasing titles? Like, I—I—I didn’t like that. And um, so just for those own personal reasons of—of how I found it affecting me, um, I did walk away from competition.


I saw you do a TEDx talk, and—




–you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed—




–in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.


Oh, definitely. I mean, it was—it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in … you know, the peak of what I thought what could have been my career. You know, I had sponsors now, and um … you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me, and um, and all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it. And um, it—it—it let down a lot of people, and um, definitely disappointed people. And—and for myself too, I mean, I—I did feel—I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost. I didn’t—I didn’t really know who I was without—without that. I—it had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department. It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more. And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, um, I definitely felt like a loser. You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt um … I felt like I didn’t quite know … if I would like … you know. I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have. I didn’t know if it was—you know, how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.


Did you have a sense of what you would do to replace the competitions?


All I just told myself is, I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that. And that’s the feeling that I wanted. I didn’t quite know wh at type of path that would take me on, and how it would affect my career, um, but I just knew I wanted that back. I wanted to go in the water and not have the pressure of competition on my shoulders, and not look at a fish and calculate how many points it would be worth. I wanted that gone.


What happened, then?

I—it took me a while, actually. Uh, it was probably a year um, where a lot of times I would go out diving, and … all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be, you know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet. It—it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting. Um, and … it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish. And then, I really would beat myself up. Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I don’t even—can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up. And um … and I got pretty depressed, but um … but—but you know, but through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, um, couple friends of mine like said, You need to get back in the water. Like, let’s go. And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still—still fighting itself, and I—I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have anymore. And um … and so, I’m like, Let’s just pack it up and go, guys. I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home. And they said, Okay, let’s go. But then, I said, You know what? Let me just take one last drop. And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive. And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe. But I just took a dive, and um, didn’t even tell them what—uh, you know, just took—told them to watch me, you know, took a dive. And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand. I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand. And—and I laid there, and I let every single … critic come through my head. Every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come, and I listened to every single, you know, put-down, worry, concern, fear. And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just … still waited, held my breath. Okay, what else you got; give it to me. You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left. And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, that—that I, you know, hadn’t already heard. Like, it just went quiet. And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.



I’m thinking of your buddies watching you from above, and thinking, She’s down there a really long time.


With her face in the sand.




But they let you be.


They did; they did. And then, um, as soon as I picked my head up, I just realized like, the feeling’s back. You know, that feeling is back. Like—because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish. But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home. And—and when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it. Um, I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me. And soon as I came up, I—I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew. They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like, You’re back. And I’m like, I’m back. And that was that. And after that, then I just started um, diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have. I’m gonna do everything I can to—to keep this pure. Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.


Kimi Werner became a freediving ambassador for Patagonia, a company whose mission is to protect the land and ocean. She had an opportunity to swim with a great white shark, not to sensationalize such an encounter, but to show the beauty of the interaction of species.


Basically, my dive partner just started shaking my arm and screaming. And I put my face back in the water, there was great white literally like, from me to you. And I just instantly like— I heard myself scream, but it wasn’t a scream of fear; it was more like … the scream that you have when you’re like, catching a wave. Like, it was like a squeal. Here goes, you know.




And so, I just swam right at that shark, and as soon as I did, she veered off, thankfully. And um, and I just think it was one of those situations where had I reacted by backing away, swimming away, like trying to scramble for the boat, I might not be here right now. And um, but as soon as I swam at her, she just kinda backed off, and then I watched the way that she was swimming.


Why do you say, she?


Oh, because you could tell um—


–yeah, it was a female shark. Yeah; they have these claspers by their tail, and um, yeah, you can tell. But—which I only learned later. Once she backed off, then I just observed her, and I just saw that she was really mellow. That she was coming up out of curiosity, but there was nothing about her body language that said aggression. I mean, her fins were completely out. When sharks get aggressive, their fins come down, they arch their back.


But remember, you’re on the floor of the reef, curling up, but you are aggressive. So—




Can’t sharks play the same game?


They can. I don’t think that animals are quite as manipulative as humans. I think a lot of times with animals, what you see is what you get. Um, maybe that’s why I like them so much. And um … and so … so, yeah; in watching her body language, it just became apparent that she was moving really slow, and granted, yes, she mostly definitely could have switched and eaten me at any second. Um, but again, she didn’t leave the area, so it didn’t really make sense for me to scramble back to the boat. Instead, I just kept an eye on her, and she was going down, and like doing circles, but she would come up. But every time she came up, I just knew, okay, I have to swim down, I have to show that I’m just as interested in her. But this one time, she just slowed down, and she leveled off right in front of me. And I had hit that negative buoyancy point where I was already sinking, no matter what, so at this point, I had two options. And it was, I could make a drastic turn and kick back up, which I’d have to kick back up to the surface, which didn’t sound like a good idea, or basically, I was going to cross the path of the shark. And so, once I realized I was, I’m like, Well, whatever you do, just make it smooth. And as soon as she came under me, I just reached out, let her know I’m right here, touched her dorsal fin, and we just went for a swim together.


And it was fine with the shark.


It was crazy how fine it was. I mean, if that animal, a seventeen-foot great white shark didn’t want me touching her on her back, I’m sure she’d let me know. But um, but it was amazing. I just felt her, and this huge animal, you could just feel this calm energy. And she just even slowed down even more, to the point where her tail was barely moving, and we were just gliding together.


Well, if the shark recognized you as another predator, wouldn’t you be considered competition for food, same food?


You definitely can be, and I’ve seen uh, some sharks be territorial. And again, it’s just one of those times where it’s like, you need to just hold your ground until you can get to a safer place. Um, but in this case, no, I don’t think this—this big lady had any problem with getting her own food, and so, I don’t think that it was anything territorial or anything competitive. I think we were just two predators swimming together.


Kimi Werner travels around the world working on film projects, speaking, diving and meeting people who, like her, are living sustainably and thriving in nature.

Mahalo to Kimi Werner of Waialua for sharing your love of the ocean with us and thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.


I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, um … you know, we’re—we’re just—we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to—we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and um … and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with.




Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea


Growing up in rural Maui, Kimi Werner joined her father as he free dived and hunted for fish to feed his family. Werner would discover her own passion for free diving and spearfishing, eventually becoming the U.S. National Spearfishing Champion in 2008. However, it was those early experiences living simply and off the land that inspired her to develop a more holistic relationship with the ocean and helped her define her own distinct path. As an artist, chef and world traveler, Werner combines her talents with her vast knowledge of the ocean as a speaker and educator.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 8, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 12, at 4:00 pm.


Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Audio


Download the Transcript




I swam out to this reef and I could kinda see some waves breaking on it. So, I knew, oh, there’s a reef out there, you know, and I swam out there, totally freaked out, really, the whole time. And that was another lesson for me, too, is that I realized that all those years spent in the water with my dad, I think as a child, you have this sense of security. And every time I looked over and I saw my dad, I just felt like nothing bad could happen to me, no matter what. If I felt scared ‘cause we were so deep, if I felt scared because of sharks, I would look over, I’d see my dad, and I would just know I’m safe. And so, one of the things I would have to do, even as a grown woman, when I would swim out and I’d start to like, feel a little creeped out, I would just imagine my dad swimming right next to me. And every time I did, it would just calm me down.


Kimi Werner often overcomes her fears of the unknown by recalling the life lessons and values that she learned early in life. This has given her confidence and courage in pursuing her dreams. Kimi Werner, next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, is a national spearfishing champion, a chef, an award-winning artist, and a motivational speaker. In Kimi Werner’s early years in rural Haiku, Maui, her family lived primarily off the bounty of the land and the ocean. And that laid the foundation for her passions in life.


My life was just one that was really focused around nature. We lived on this property where we had absolutely no neighbors in sight, and so, the only things that I really knew were just my family and the natural world that was right outside of my doorstep, really. Our house was like, a little shack, pretty much just falling apart at the seams. And I remember I could never really explain to kids like, what color it was, ‘cause it just depended on what kinda moss was growing on all the rotten wood. But at the same time, it was just an absolute magical childhood. We spent out days outside, and gathering food with our family.


What do you remember gathering?


I mean, everything, really. My mom was such a forager, and she always taught me at a young age what was edible and what wasn’t. So, any time I’d go exploring in the woods, I would just come home with like, you know, armfuls and shirt-fuls of strawberry guavas, or you know, even just like, white ginger and you suck the nectar out of it. So, anything, really.


How did your mom know how to forage, and what was your dad like?


My mom, she’s kind of one of the only Japanese hippies that I know. But she was just like this very … I mean, she’s a hippie at heart, really. She didn’t grow up with a lot of money. She grew up here on Oahu, the very strict conservative family, but later in life moved to Maui. And she just loved being resourceful. I think that’s what it was that she got from growing up poor, was just the fascination with how you can be resourceful. And combining that with her love for nature, she was really good at just finding magic and finding resource in everything around us.


So, you say you didn’t have a lot of money; you had these natural resources. Did you feel poor?


I never felt poor. I mean, I remember when I did start school in kindergarten, like kind of realizing then that I had less material things than all of the other kids. But I never felt poor. In those years, especially, I would say I felt so rich with just activity and fun. I mean, every morning, my job was to go out and gather the chicken eggs from under the house, and pick whatever fruit were ripe, and to spend the days underwater diving with my dad, and just watching him bring me up fish and lobster for dinner. Like, that doesn’t feel poor.


You would float above him as he went way down?


I was just a tagalong. I was about five years old when he started taking me diving. And I would just float, and just watch him. My main goal was to keep up with him. And I remember, as long as I could see the bubbles of his fins, I knew I was going in the right way. And then, when he would take a drop, then I’d be able to catch up, catch my breath, and put in my orders for dinner, really.


And would he actually be able to get you what you wanted, the type of fish you wanted?


He would. He would pride himself on that, basically. If my mom wanted to eat octopus or if she wanted to eat lobster, or fish, whatever it was that she wanted, he always, you know, would see it through and make sure he got that for us.


You mentioned the year you started kindergarten. That was also the year, I believe, your mother started a different kind of class; college.


Yes; yeah. My mom, she was a waitress while my dad was a plasterer, a construction worker. And so basically, he was trying to kinda start his own plastering company, but it was a slow start. And my mom was pretty much living off of her tips as a waitress. But they saved up enough money to put my mom through nursing school at MCC, and so when I was five years old, she was forty-one, and that’s when she went to college. It was such a memorable thing, because of how my mom just never took it for granted. You know, I think when she grew up, she did have a hard life and didn’t, you know, have a lot of luxuries, and school wasn’t an option for her then. And so, later in life, after having us and getting us to an age where we’re now in school, and having just enough money saved up to finally pursue her own dream to become a nurse, when she went to school, I mean, she just aced it because she was so happy to be there. You know, it wasn’t the privilege that I had. I went to KCC, but just going there straight after high school, you know, it was like thirteenth grade for me and whatnot. But for my mom, she took it really seriously, didn’t take it for granted at all, and just learned everything she could possibly learn while there.


What did she do with her degree?


She became a nurse in the emergency room of Maui Memorial Hospital.


So, bye-bye shack that changes colors; right?




With money in the pocket, where did you move?


So, I mean, when she got her job at the emergency room, that was also around the exact same time when my dad’s company actually flourished, and he started getting employees and started making more money. So, it was a pretty drastic change. You know, it’s not like we were rich all of a sudden, but we did have a lot more money and access to material things than we ever had before. And so, we moved from that old little shack in Haiku to a subdivision in Makawao. And it was my first time ever living anywhere that had like a paved road, or neighbors, and first time ever buying eggs from the store instead of collecting them myself.


How did they taste?


They were horrible. I mean, that was one thing I completely remember, was just that that was always my favorite breakfast, and when we moved into this new house that my dad built, and my mom served me eggs, like, I just ate them and I was like, What’s wrong with these? Like, they don’t taste so good. And she told me, Oh, they’re store-bought. And I remember at that young age, I was seven, just thinking like, Oh, they’re fake. You know. I just related store-bought to fake, and didn’t really want them anymore. It’s crazy what a shocking transition that was. And even though I knew we were happy to be making this forward progress, I could tell my parents were really proud of themselves and happy, I definitely just felt a really big sense of loss. I think we all kinda felt the same. I might have been the one that voiced it the most of how much I just wanted to go back and live there. But I do think my whole family, even with the advantages and the good we saw coming out of it, I do think we all did feel a sense of loss.


It’s amazing how formative that experience of foraging as a little kid and diving with your dad, I mean, it seems to have shaped your life. That’s what you do as a career, to a great extent.


It really has. You know, I think like anything, you adjust and you adapt. And I definitely did adjust and adapt to the new more modern life that was given to me, and I got bicycles, and nicer clothes, and friends, and you know, got used to the store-bought eggs. And we just evolved that way. But I think it was later in life when I was an adult, still kinda going through the motions of what seemed like progress, and was there with my, you know, degree and my job, and doing everything I could to kind of connect the dots of what should make a fulfilling happy life, but still, there was just something in me that just was longing in a way, for the past, and realizing that it had been that long, and there was still just something calling me back to those really early childhood memories. It is what shaped my life. I think for the longest time, I believed that you have to let go of the past, and you can’t go backwards. And even though I did accept that, finally, when I was about twenty-four years old, I just kind of started to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn’t something that’s just left in the past; maybe it is something that I can incorporate into my world today.


Kimi Werner graduated with a degree in culinary arts when she was twenty-one. She took jobs in the restaurant industry, but soon realized that was not her calling. She left that career to become an artist, but that wasn’t fully satisfying, either. She needed something that would bring her interests together.


My main connection to the ocean at that time was paddling canoe. And it was one day, when we were at a canoe regatta, when some of my friends, some of my guy friends from the club brought some fish and put it on the grill. You know, when I was those fish hit the grill, I did just get a sense of just like, nostalgic bliss. And I think at the same time, it served as proof that maybe this is something I can do, and if those are my most fond memories, you know, the diving with my dad, and whatnot, maybe it’s time that I learn to just dive on my own, and know how to feed myself. You know.


Did you check with him about it? How did you do that? Did you broach that to him?


I did. He was living on Maui, and so it’s not like I could just go jump in the water with him. But I remember just telling him, You know, I wish that I had learned that from you. I spent all those years cleaning the fish, you know, doing all the little grunt work, cleaning the fish, helping Grandma or Mom cook the fish, and tagging along with you and holding the fish. And you never even taught me to spear the fish, and now I want to learn, and I don’t know where to start. And he just told me, like, Oh, no, I taught you. You know, you’ll see. And he was right. I hate to admit it; I always do, but he was absolutely right.


Because you could see what he was doing down there. You know, I’m sure he had special places he hid, and positions he took.


Well, basically. So, I tried to reach out and find teachers, and ask people to take me diving. And when I wasn’t really getting called back for that or anything, or getting invited, then I did just go get a three-prong spear, you know, like the one that I saw him have, and I just went for a swim one day.




I actually went for a swim like, towards Kahuku, kind of past Turtle Bay. But went for a swim in Kahuku side, and I just realized like, as soon as I started swimming, like, any fish that swam by me, I knew what fish that was. Like, I had my whole fish identification down, because as a kid, I knew what I wanted for dinner, and I knew how to put in my orders. And then, I remembered where they lived, how they acted, and all of those years just spent simply observing really taught me more than I realized. And I gave it a try, and I was able to just come home with just six little fry fish. I think it was like, three kole’s and two menpachi’s, and an aweoweo. You know, just a humble catch of fish. But the feeling of scaling it and cooking it, and sharing it with my roommates at the time, but just knowing that I went out with my own two hands, you know, and got this meal, and I’m providing for myself, it was more fulfilling than any cooking experience I had in my whole culinary career. And so, that was when I knew, like, this is what it’s about for me.


It’s a hyphenated career that you have now.


It is.


It’s painter, it’s diver, it’s fisher.




What else?


Artist. I work a lot on productions and travel.


Speaker; you speak to groups.


Yes; a public speaker. Yeah. So, it’s a mixed bag of tricks, really. When I was a little kid, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always a long hyphenated answer, you know, depending on whatever it was that I was into in that moment, whether I wanted to be, you know, a singer, veterinarian, artist. But it was always that type of hyphenated answer. And I think as I got older, I just started to realize that when it comes to, you know, being guided by adults, that you’re not supposed to have these long crazy answers, you’re supposed to choose one career and find your path there. And that’s kind of how we were taught.


Well, you did try it; culinary arts.


I did try it. I definitely tried it. And I do remember even then, even when I signed up to go to college, knowing like, But I really also want to do something with art, and I don’t know if this is all I want to do. And I put like a secret wish out there, you know, to the universe. Like, if I just go on this path, like, will you please just let something else fall in my lap and, you know, guide me along. And then, the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a degree, and there was nothing that fell in my lap. And I think feeling the unfulfillment, feeling just not satisfied completely, it made me realize like, you can’t just wait for something to fall in your lap. Like, if you really want to do it, if you really want to be an artist, that’s gonna take courage, you have to just go try. You know, if you want to try this diving stuff, like, stop waiting for it. Like, go do it. And if you fail, you fail, but you’re gonna feel like this for the rest of your life if you don’t try.


You know, you talked a lot about being very happy in those early surroundings and with your family when you were a kid. And then, I’ve heard you refer to unfulfillment, and you know, not quite happy. Tell me the difference between those things. I mean, it sounds like you spent much of your life trying to get that full happiness back.


Right; definitely. I think when it comes to me, I think the happiness comes from just the most simple things. And I believe that’s why at an early age, I did feel so content. I mean, it’s easy to say, Oh, you were just a kid, you didn’t have all these responsibilities, it’s easy to be happy then, you’re an adult now, you know, you’re not supposed to feel like that. But I don’t really think so. I think that at that early age, I was content because I just had these basic simple pleasures that took hard work. You know, none of it came easy. When it comes to getting your own food, or not having a lot of convenience in your life, you have to work for everything. But I think that it is that hard work that ends up becoming so meaningful, that ends up giving you values, and that ends up being so character-building.


A lot of it involves intuition and observing.


Yes; definitely.


You’re learning a lot as you do it.


You do; you definitely do. And I think sometimes, I mean, maybe it really is just through these more simple lifestyles for me that you do get that much more in touch with yourself, with your natural instincts, with your intuition. I mean, those are most definitely things that you learn from hunting. And when you get to know the core of who you are that well, to the point where you are satisfied and can smile about it, everything else just seems to melt away. And I think sometimes when we get focused more on a life of just convenience and …


And cramming in a lot of things to keep you busy.


Cramming it all in. Yeah. It can just complicate everything, and before we know it, we’re chasing things we don’t even need, and we’re doing things that we don’t even want to do. And why? You know, I think probably because of just the pressure that we feel from society, or from other people, and going through these motions of what we feel we’re supposed to do with our life, rather than just really evaluating it at the heart and asking yourself what it is that you really want.


Kimi Werner’s life lessons were not all learned as a child. When she trained to become an expert free diver, learning to hold her breath underwater for almost five minutes, she realized that her new skills translated into different values and life lessons.


How do you hold your breath that long?


It’s all about relaxing. I mean, a hundred percent, I think that’s what it’s about. I can break down the physiology, and you know, talk about the hemoglobin and all of that within us and how it works, but really, what it comes down to is your brain. It just comes down to making that screaming voice in your head, the one that’s saying like, I’m scared, you need to breathe, let’s get out of here, you know, all of those things that go through your mind, it’s about switching it off and just saying, I got this. And having confidence in yourself, and trusting the process that you’re doing.


Would that work on land, as well?


I think so. I definitely think so. You know, everything about panic, about fear, it’s not just the vibrations and the energy that’s used up within that panic, and the adrenalin, and whatnot that takes away your oxygen, but it’s also how your body starts reacting to it. Usually, when we start to panic, we start to do things a lot faster, you know, and you see it when you’re late for work and looking for your car keys. And you’re doing things, but you’re not really making any more progress. Now, you’re dropping stuff, you know, and it’s the same with being underwater. If you start to panic, you’re gonna start to kick faster, and it’s gonna be counterproductive because you’re using more muscles, which are using more oxygen, which there goes your breath. And so, really, for me, whenever I feel that sense of panic come over me, it’s now become an indicator that just makes everything go numb, switch off, and just assess the situation calmly, and it makes me actually slow down. Like no matter what, when I feel that sense of panic, I slow down.


So, when you’re late for work and you lose your keys, all of a sudden, you’re moving slowly.


I try to apply it to land all the time. Or you know, or if something really gets you upset, for example. You know, if something gets you upset, a lot of times, we have this need to panic and to react, and that can come out in the way that we talk to people, the way that we react to, you know, the person that’s trying to do their job, or trying to serve you something, or whatever. And it doesn’t get you anywhere good, usually. It usually really helps if when everything goes wrong, if you just slow down and you just look for an actual solution.


I like your word, assess.




Kind of dispassionately take a look, a little three-sixty, and figure out what to do.


Yes. I think that’s exactly it. You know, you have to look at the situation neutrally, and then, you can go from there. You know. But I think reacting out of panic um, it heightens things and oftentimes, just makes things messier than they need to be in any situation.


You have lost people in your life young. And you do take risks that other people don’t take.




Has that affected your feelings about the value of life, or the fragility of life?


Most definitely. When I was a senior in high school, you know, my high school boy friend at the time, we were very close to his dad. And one day, I had a paddling regatta in Hana, and his dad had come out to surprise us, and it was just a beautiful day. But on the way home, he was hit on a head-on collision, from actually a cousin, a family member of mine, who was high on heroin at the time. And basically, that was my first like, true feeling of just loss, such a beautiful life gone. That’s what really showed me the fragility of our mortality, and it did make me just start to evaluate my own life. I was seventeen and then, I turned eighteen; I just kept thinking about that and just realizing that even as a teenager, that I should be living a lot better and that I should be a lot happier, because if life can be taken just that easily, like my goodness, I want to make the most of it.


That’s interesting, ‘cause at that age, many people see success, worldly success as the goal, and not a conscious effort to be happy.


Yeah; and that’s what it came down to for me. I mean, I kinda had an epiphany as a senior in high school, and just realized how silly it all is, the whole façade. You know, even in high school, I think there’s just so much of it that’s just built on image and expectation from the clothes that we think we need to wear or buy. And I would go to school and look around, and realize that these are the same kids that I grew up with since I was like, so little, and half the time walking around in school, we’re not even smiling at each other or saying hi or engaging, ‘cause we’re all so afraid of just not fitting in. We’re all so like, conditioned to be going through these motions of acting how we think we’re supposed to act. Everything gets so based on image around your peers at that age that even just something like showing kindness, saying hello, those things get forgotten. We all do crave human connection, we all crave being accepted and connection, but we look for it in ways that maybe aren’t really the true connection of it, and that life’s too short to live like that. I mean, still, once you see the truth, you can’t un-see it, and so, it is something that does just help keep me in line, and how important it is to really just know that as long as you’re trying your best in life, you’re giving love out there to this world. Then give yourself a hand and just, you know, love yourself, and let all the critics and all the insecurities fall away, because you’re doing a good job.


Kimi Werner sees her way to happiness and can’t un-see that, either. Mahalo to Kimi Werner, currently in 2016 a resident of Waialua, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.


Do you see this career as extending over a long time?


I think I do. I never really knew where any of this was going, whether it was art or spearfishing, or whatnot. I’ve never been like, the ten-year plan girl. I’ve been like, can I pay my rent this month? Yes. That’s great; you’re doing awesome in life. And now, it has become something that I can find a lot more comfort in, and I understand that because I’m making decisions that are truthfully, you know, holding true to my values, that’s what’s making it long-lasting.



Science and Wonder


Journey through space, the human body, disappearing landscapes and the world of Pixar animation as speakers look at the future of nanotechnology, the search for life beyond earth and the science of light. Featured speakers include: Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg; MIT’s Paula Hammond; Radiolab’s Latif Nasser; author Juan Enriquez; and artist Zaria Forman.


Nick Vujicic


Born without arms and legs, inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic has never experienced the warmth of wrapping his arms around someone and hugging them. Yet he once held the record for the number of hugs in an hour. That’s Nick Vujicic — he always feels that “you can, you will.”


Nick Vujicic Audio


Download the Transcript




When people talk with you for the first time, they’re very nervous, and they don’t know how to approach you.




How do you make it easier for them?


Well, you know, like, I sometimes even take advantage of that and become a little bit humorous sometimes.


For example?


Kids come up and say, What happened? And I say, Cigarettes.




And you know, then people around them start, you know, laughing. But I hug people. I was the Guinness Book of World Records holder for hugs in an hour; one thousand seven hundred and forty-one hugs in an hour. My arms fell off.




And someone beat me.




So now, we gotta go back and beat them back. But no; I love hugging. Hugging is my way of—obviously, they try to shake hands. I say, Don’t worry, I don’t shake hands, just give me a hug.


Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. Despite the many challenges this created for him growing up, he was able to overcome them all, and credits is family’s love, his faith in God, and his positive attitude for his success. Nick Vujicic, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Nick Vujicic is a motivational speaker as well as a best-selling author, a Christian Evangelist, and the leader of a nonprofit organization, Life Without Limbs. He’s been an inspiration to audiences around the world, encouraging people to overcome obstacles and follow their dreams. But Nick was not always confident.


When you were born in Australia, did your parents know that you’d be born without limbs?


No; at the time, they even had ultrasounds, and no one bothered to check, to double check that I had my ten fingers and ten toes. And it was a shock; it was a tragedy. When I was laid by my mother’s side, she said, Take him away, I can’t look at him right now. Full of emotion and questions; Why, why did this happen, couldn’t we see this at least coming?


Later, you would face all those questions. Why did this happen? But, what was their thought process in dealing with it?


It was obviously difficult. And I knew that it would be someday that I would be able to hear it straight from them. And I felt like I had to be a teenager before I really went down that way.   For you to hear from your own mother, I couldn’t hold you, I couldn’t breast feed you, I couldn’t have peace about your existence and your purpose for at least four months, that was hard to hear. And so, they took one day at a time, but my dad and mom were people of faith, believing that God does not make mistakes even though it’s hard to see how He is perfect when imperfect things happen. But one day at a time, loving each other, and planting seeds of hope and encouragement; that’s the only way that I got through my childhood. Going to school, getting bullied, they always were affectionate. They were very busy parents, but at the same time, they always made time to make sure that their son knew that he was beautiful, and that he’s not a mistake, and to do this best.


When you were a little kid, you wore prosthetic arms.


Yes; at six years old, we had state of the art technology, 1989, actually made in Toronto, Canada. And they were very costly. Some people in Australia wanted to give me an opportunity, so they paid for it, and we were just so thankful for that. And they were quite big. I was only a little guy; I was about twenty-five pounds at the time.


And they came with shoulders and arms.


Shoulders and whole harness thing, and the hand rotating, and the arms going up and down. But each arm weighed about six pounds, so it was quite heavy. And it stopped me from being so mobile. And then, I had to sort of relearn how to write. So, trying to write with my robotic arms means I had to move my whole body. That didn’t work. I felt a bit like Robocop. And in me trying to accept myself, I had to accept myself the way that I was. So, there were some psychology as well in that. But overall, it wasn’t a benefit for me.


Would you tell us about your early years?


Yeah, basically, I first up front say that I believe it’s worse being in a broken home than having no arms and no legs. You can have arms and legs, but if your heart’s broken, it’s broken. If you’re paralyzed by fear, you’re disabled. And so, it was difficult for me to believe in a greater hope. A man without vision dies. I didn’t see a good vision for my life, and I started dying on the inside.


Even though you had loving parents and a stable home?


Even though I had a loving stable home. Imagine; I know what would have happened if I didn’t have that. ‘Cause I actually was on the brink of giving up and trying to actually commit suicide.


When was that?


Age ten.


Age ten. What were you contemplating doing?


Drowning myself in my bathtub. I actually tried. I first thought of giving up at age eight. And I was thinking, Well, maybe I can just jump off the countertop of the kitchen counter as I watched my mom cook. That was our sort of bonding session. And I thought to myself, I’m done. You know, all the bullying at school, all the teasing. My mom and dad don’t know if I’m ever gonna get married. I don’t know if I’m gonna be ever independent. If I don’t have a purpose, what’s the point? If my pain’s not gonna change, I want out. So, at age ten, as I tried to drown myself, I thought of one image. And the image was my mother and my father crying at my grave, wishing they could have done something more. So, I decided to stay, just because of that. They didn’t deserve that pain. So, I stayed.


I think you were one of the first crop of young people to be mainstreamed through schools, and there, you encountered bullying. What was the worst thing that happened to you in school?


You know, there is no pinnacle of my negative experience of bullying. And bullying is experienced by everyone, not just people in wheelchairs. So, the problem for me was the taunts, the stares, the laughs were not just in school, but in every public setting. You couldn’t get away from it. You can’t ignore it. But there is no one worst thing. But people, you know, called me names, they made different jokes, and some I tried to ignore, some I confronted. There was one guy, I did head butt him.


It was an actual arranged fight outside the buildings of school?


So, it was about this kid coming up to me and saying, I bet you can’t fight. And you know me, now, you know, trying to be confident, I said, I bet you I can. He said, Well, how can you prove it? And I said, Well, I’ll meet you on the field at lunch. There were about twenty of us there, and I never resort to violence since then. Fighting back is not the answer. If you need to self-defend yourself, if someone is really choking you and, you know, maybe you had some self-defense classes, but we’re not here to attack. We’re here to prove how strong we are. And I was tempted, and I took that fall. But I really didn’t think he was gonna do it. I thought, How low can this guy be?


Exactly. Calling out a guy in a wheelchair. So, how did it work out? He did actually call you out of your wheelchair; right?


Right. You know, he said, You gotta get out of your wheelchair. And I’m like, Okay, so I can’t run him over. [CHUCKLE] So, I go to I go to the field, and I said, Go on your knees. But he still had his hands. And you know, I wrestled with my brother and my sister, and I got a mean chin. I can, boom, get into their wrist, right to their bone, and you know, felt like I got that move. But I didn’t think this guy was gonna—


But he had arms to …


He was pretty tall, so therefore, long arms. Pushed me down once. And I’m like, Man, is this guy for real? Went up to him a second time, like walking up, and pushed me down again. And all the girls are like, Oh, leave him alone. And the last thing I ever wanted was that. So, I got up and I charged, and I went straight into his nose. He flew back, blood came out.


So you hurled yourself at him.


Hurled myself at him. Used my wheelchair to get back up, and I jumped maybe three steps, four steps, but very fast. I used to be a lot faster when I was younger. And I said, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. And he just walked, and everybody was like, Wow, you know. So, imagine, first of all, my fear. I’m a PK, pacifist kid. I had to confess my sins to my parents. [CHUCKLE] I’m like, Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry, I have to tell you.


I beat up a guy at school today.


I head butted a guy at school, and blood came out of his nose. I’m so sorry. They didn’t believe me. And they didn’t smack me, they didn’t discipline me. They used to discipline me that way with a belt. And I was ready for it. My parents did not spare the rod [CHUCKLE], and it was a way that they wanted to discipline us. That’s how they grew up.


You got treated the same as your brother and sister?


Treated the same. I actually was probably the biggest bully out of all three of us. I’d dub my brother for things that I did actually, and so I was pretty bad. I was sort of getting bossy sometimes. So, that was the childhood Nick Vujicic, not realizing that my brother is just loving me and he’s helped me as much as he can just because he can, and not because he’s supposed to. And so, there were some dynamics there, but my parents, you know, they gave us good discipline. You know, if they felt that that was something to get us back on the straight and narrow, they did that. But I was very thankful that I did not get a smack. What do you mean you head butted a kid? And so, I didn’t realize at the time that that they just thought I was wanting attention by them. So, I’m thankful that didn’t happen. But I would never hit anyone, ever again. I promised myself. ‘Cause the guilt that I had. And I realized that, you know, people gossiping about me or laughing at me, I realized it’s either ignorance or hurting people or hurting others ignorantly. And even the people who were bullying me that one day where I had twelve bullies pick on me. And they didn’t know that I was being picked on that much, and I felt like I should give up. And one thing that helped me to get through it, and even forgive them, was believing that someone out there actually did love me, outside of my family. And there was one girl who had no idea I was teased twelve times that day. I counted them all on my fingers. And she saw me across the playground on my way out of school, and she said, Hey, Nick! And I’m like, Great, here it is. She came up, she looked me right in the eye; she said, Nick, I just want you to know that you’re looking good today. And I’m like, Oh? So, that’s why I became a speaker.


Even though he decided that he wanted to become a speaker, Nick Vujicic had no idea what he would talk about, or even where he would speak. He first had to survive the rest of his childhood.


Did you go through all of the angst of the questions that many people in difficult circumstances ask themselves? Why me? How could God do this to me? Why are people so cruel? How can I possibly survive? How can I provide for myself? How can I provide for a family? Can I have a family?




How did you go through all of that?


It was a journey. At thirteen years old, I actually hurt my foot playing soccer. So, I have a foot that’s about six inches long with two toes that allows me to type and walk, and drive my wheelchair around, and swim.


And balance?


And balance. I was in bed for three weeks, sprained my foot. Three weeks being in bed for a thirteen-year-old is like three years. I felt disabled for the first time. I need my foot for everything, and I realized I need to be thankful for what I had, instead of being angry about what I don’t have. So, I started counting my blessings. I said, God, more than arms and legs, I need purpose, I need peace, I want Heaven. Come into my heart, forgive me my sin; and Lord, if you don’t give me arms and legs, I have a pair of shoes in my closet just in case He does. Use me. If I don’t get that miracle, use me so that others would know that greater than a physical healing, you need a spiritual healing. You need your soul restored. He doesn’t need to change my physical aspect; He needs to change my heart, my mind, and really give me what I’m looking for, happiness through peace.


So, you learned to have a positive attitude, but it took more than that, didn’t it, to give you peace?


It did. It took time. It wasn’t overnight. I have a positive attitude not because that’s my coping mechanism, but I found real hope, real happiness. Not in temporary things of what people think of you or what job you’re gonna get, or what money you’re gonna have, and if or if you’re not in a relationship. You need to be, first of all, taking responsibility of your own happiness and your own peace within you. And as you see that reflection in the mirror, one day at a time, which is—it’s hard for someone to feel like they’re ugly and then look themself in the mirror and say, I’m beautiful. But what I did, when I looked myself in the mirror, I said, Okay, Nick, you have no arms, no legs, but your eyes are beautiful; hold onto something. Nick, you can’t do sports, but you’re good at mathematics. Give yourself a chance. I had a plan to become an accountant and financial planner, and curve balls are thrown at us every day.


What was your curve ball?


A greater opportunity. That at the time, my parents thought I was crazy. They never thought I would be a speaker. They said, What are you gonna speak about? I said, I don’t know. Are they gonna pay you? I don’t know. Do you have any invitations? No. How are you gonna get them? I don’t know. How are you gonna get there? I don’t know. But when you find the truth that every day is an opportunity, you take one day at a time. Not just about what we can get and what we can have, but even the curve balls that come negatively at you. Remember the last obstacle you went through, how hard it was, how big it looked, how fearful you were. You still got through it. Maybe you don’t even know how you got through it, but you’re still here. If you’re still here, there’s an opportunity to grow. And if you’re living tomorrow, you can do better than today. Whatever your goal is, find your real purpose, eternal purpose, and make sure that love is the thing that covers it all. One of my first big speeches, I was in front of three hundred teenagers, sophomore students for seven minutes, I had no idea what to do, my palms were sweaty. And within three minutes—did you get that? Palms sweaty. Yeah.




And within three minutes, half the girls were crying, and one girl in the middle of the room started weeping. She put up her hand, she said, I’m so sorry to interrupt; can I come up there and give you a hug? She came and she hugged me, she cried on my shoulder, and she said, Thank you, thank you, thank you; no one’s ever told me that they loved me, no one’s ever told me that I’m beautiful the way that I am. That’s when I knew that hope was real as a way to uplift others, that even though I never got some miracles that I could still be a miracle for one other soul.


Nick Vujicic was nineteen when he gave the speech. Since then, he has traveled the world, meeting everyone from world leaders to the impoverished, sharing his story of hope with millions of people.


Teenagers see me up on stage. So, you know, eighteen schools in Hawaii over the two weeks that we had, you know, every time I get up there, they’re like, Oh, is he gonna make me feel sorry for him, is it a depressing thing? And as I get up there and just break the ice, they’re like, Wow, you know, this guy’s pretty cool.


Yeah; lots of things on your mind as a public speaker as you approach a group.


Yes; definitely. Definitely. And I have still a lot to learn, but one thing you want everyone to be is at ease with whatever message, you know, you have. And the greatest message of all that you could ever, ever communicate is hope. So, that’s what we try and impart.


Do you adlib, or do you have a prepared text?


I don’t have a prepared text. After speaking two thousand six hundred times, meeting twelve presidents, and speaking at seven Congresses in total, you sort of have just this faith that, you know, I’m getting up there, and I know my story, I know the principles and values of my faith, and get up there and talk about Jesus in some settings. And in places where I cannot talk about my faith, we talk about never giving up, and dreaming big, and knowing that everyone’s beautiful.


What are those places where you can’t speak of your faith?


There’s times in different regions of the world, for instance China. China is an open country for me to go there. And the cool thing about it is, if someone asks me about my faith, then I can definitely share about my faith. And so, in every speech that we’ve had with forty thousand students in university campuses, there was a time about five, six years ago where a lot of kids were giving up, jumping off buildings. And they asked me to go and speak at the university. It was just a pressure to perform, and the global economic crisis started getting everyone worried. Well, is there a job for me at the end of this? And suicide rates dropped immediately, eighty percent. And so, they put me on TV to forty million households. To the Arab world, we had a press conference in Egypt, 2008, with the governor of Alexandria and two hundred million Arabs were watching. And someone mentioned about their faith, and they sort of asked me to talk about mine. And so, we come in love, no matter what. And that’s the greatest thing we want. You know, I work with Buddhists, I work with Muslims, I work with all people who want to make a difference in the world. So, I don’t just work with Christians.


You hear many other people’s really sad stories of affliction, of injury, of abuse, as you mentioned. And they’re looking to you for answers. But sometimes, people can’t hear your answer.


It’s true. So many of us are deafened by the fear screaming at us, the echoes of everyone’s taunts in our bed at night. I want them to know that they’re, first of all, beautiful and they’re here for a reason, and they’re not a mistake. Just because you failed something a hundred times, or a hundred thousand times, you’re not a failure. You gotta stand strong and finish strong. It’s not about what happens to you; it’s what you do with it.


You talk about do not fear, fight your fears. And one of the most common fears in the world is the fear of public speaking, which you have managed to do fearlessly.


[CHUCKLE] Well, you know, first of all, the greatest fear is public speaking; the second one is fear of death. So, some people would rather die before they speak; right? So, that’s pretty funny. But I love speaking, and I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t overcome all my fears. You can’t ignore fear. F-E-A-R; false evidence appearing real. That’s the irrational fear, the stupid thoughts that come into you, that never come true. Don’t let that take over. Hold onto the rational fear, the things that you have to think through, the things you have to get through, but don’t let fear disable you.


But when you go up there, if you sense the crowd may not be with you from the start, how do you get them on your side?


Well, first, don’t use your fingers to fix your hair, ‘cause that never works.




Now, look; for me, after speaking so many times, it was sort of after the five-hundredth speaking engagement that I had that you started to really learn to really even critique yourself while you’re up there and read the crowd. I’ve now done two thousand six hundred speaking engagements in crowds as large as a hundred and ten thousand. And so, talk about, you know, knees shaking. So, I go up there sometimes still a little nervous sometimes, but I see that more as adrenalin. And I have people pray for me. But basically, be real. Your crowd knows exactly when you’re not real. And if you’re authentic and you have something good to say, and you have something that’s applicable, simple, relevant, and it changes something, great, go for it, in a good way. So, hold onto those simple ways in how to live life. Because the most simple things that we can communicate are the most effective.


My guess is that you’re good at reading people, because you’ve had a chance to observe them from your wheelchair, when you were a kid. And now, you’ve been exposed to lots of different types of people. Is that so? Can you read people well?


I think I can. Is that you kicking me under the table?




No, look; I’m thankful that I can look people in the eyes, and I’m just a channel. I’m not any greater human being than anyone on the planet. I’m not; we’re all equal. And so, you know, I just want to try communicate love, and in that compassion that I have for everyone, ‘cause I needed that love once myself. And knowing that I could be the hands and feet of love and hope, I always try to see if there’s anything that I could say that might bring a smile to their face, or a comforting hug, or an encouraging word. And that’s life. That’s the cool part of life. You can be a light in a darkened place.


There was a time in your life when throngs of people were just loving your talks, and wanting to be with you and talk with you, but you still felt alone ‘cause you didn’t have a special relationship. How did that feel? What was that like?


If you’re not happy single, you’re not gonna be happy married. I did not need a wife. Did I still wanted to be married? Absolutely. And God knew the desire of my heart, but I had to come to a point in my relationship with Jesus to say, God, if You want me single for the rest of my life, I will still serve You, and I will still worship You. But if You do have that person out there for me, help me to know who that is.


Tell us about your romance.


We met at a small speaking engagement. Basically, as soon as my wife and I, we laid eyes on each other, it was like fireworks everywhere. And I felt and I saw that she saw them too.


Your wife looks like a local girl.


She does.


Because she’s what we call a hapa Haole, I guess. Well, she’s Mexican, Japanese.


Yes; Japxican.


[CHUCKLE] And you have a son. You don’t discipline your own child in the way your parents disciplined you?


My kid’s not disciplined yet; he’s only one. [CHUCKLE] No, I don’t think we would use a belt. But every now and then, I mean, it’s gonna have to be my wife, ‘cause I can’t do anything. But we’re gonna have to take it as it comes. No formula; that’s what we’re trying to do. We want the most with love and words.


I like what you did in one of your books. You talked about how to develop a positive attitude.




So, I’m gonna give you the negative, and then you tell me what you say is the positive way to look at it.


We got an exam here.




Now listen—


See if you remember what you wrote.


I wrote this three years ago on that one.






I’ll never get over this.


One day I will, somehow, with someone.


I can’t take this anymore.


You got through yesterday; just do better than yesterday, and you’ll get through today.


This is the worst I’ve ever had it.


There’s worse coming; but you’re stronger from yesterday’s trials. Take one day at a time; this too, shall pass.


I’ll never find another job.


Yes, you will. And even if you don’t, your value is not determined on how much money you bring to the table, and your love communicated to your sons and daughters are not how much you can prepare them for the greatest university. My son doesn’t love me for what university he can go to; my son knows that I love him because I tell him every day. And he’s too young to know that yet, but every day, I tell my wife she’s beautiful, every day I’ll tell my children they’re beautiful and I love them too. That’s how they know how much they love me, and how much I love them.


Nick Vujicic, who now lives in Los Angeles, travels around the world, inspiring others to believe that they too can overcome serious challenges. Mahalo to Nick Vujicic for sharing his stories of hope and faith with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.


How do you approach life daily? I believe you have a caregiver who travels with you.


Yeah; we have some caregivers who travel with me. As a teenager, I learned how to become independent. I could brush my teeth, comb my hair, shower myself.


Okay; how do you do that?


So, I have an electric toothbrush, and on a suction cup there is a cup that holds my electric toothbrush. I can turn it on with my shoulder. There’s a standalone tube of toothpaste, and I push it down with my tooth, and then toothpaste comes out, and I go, r-r-r, move it around, and use my cheeks and lips to put some pressure on the brush while I move it all around. There was no training, no templates. It was really hard.


Oh, that’s terrific.


But anything, whether we shampooed my hair or turn on the taps, or you know, even personal hygiene, it was all about trial and error. And so, that’s the greatest principle of life. Sometimes, you have to learn through your own experiences. I wish I could learn from other people more. But that’s how life is.