Undefeated by Dark Times


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Undefeated by Dark Times

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa and Ralph Aviles

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Waikiki Health’s Chief Medical Officer   |   Ralph Aviles, former professional boxer


Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOIt’s happened maybe a dozen times already.
Within a minute of running into someone I know or meeting someone new, I’m asked about a guest whom I interviewed recently on our weekly Long Story Short program.


“You know, the man from Waikīkī,” said Blake Johnson of Honolulu, shortly after we met at a PBS Hawai‘i film screening. “What a guy! I can’t think of his name.”


Mr. Johnson went on: “You ask yourself, ‘Can he be real?’”


He was referring to Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at nonprofit Waikiki Health, who matter-of-factly told about growing up in Pālolo public housing. An only child, he didn’t know his father, and at a young age, his single mother left him on his own much of the time, going off to drink and gamble.


There was not the slightest trace of self-pity or bitterness as he related how he would eat dinner alone most evenings and put himself to bed. In the light of morning, he would find his mother sleeping soundly in her bed. Taking care not to awaken her, he would kiss her goodbye before making his way to school.


The future Dr. Kalauawa blamed no one for his circumstances. He knew that his mother loved bars and card games. He also knew that she loved him.


“I’m really happy I came upon that program,” Mr. Johnson smiled. “He’s quite a person. Yes, he’s real.”


Viewer Judy Soares also was moved by Dr. Kalauawa’s story. And she found former professional boxer Ralph Aviles “spell-binding” as he described his tough early childhood and his volunteer work today with at-risk youth.


Ms. Soares wrote: “I am a retired teacher who worked at a school where children came from difficult family circumstances. I used to spend many hours worrying about their futures. After seeing your interviews, I was so happy to see the resilience both men displayed.”


“…Both now have a dedication to helping less fortunate people. But they don’t do the helping in a condescending way – they respect the people they are helping. It’s inspirational.”


These Long Story Short guests are not celebrities, but they shine. Their dark times didn’t defeat them. These men quietly illuminate their lives and those of others.


A hui hou (until next time),


Leslie signature



The Land of Eb


This fictional story is set in the stark volcanic landscape of one of the most remote communities on Hawai‘i Island – Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. Jonithen Jackson portrays Jacob, a Marshallese immigrant father and grandfather, who struggles to provide for his large family. When Jacob overhears a cancer diagnosis from his doctor he keeps the news to himself, forgoing treatment in favor of working to pay off his property which he plans to pass down once he’s gone. Sensing his end, Jacob turns a small video camera on himself and begins to record his story – and that of his people, the Marshallese. The film is a contemplative look at a community in Hawaii still struggling to recover from the effects of the nuclear age. It is a profoundly realistic portrayal of one man’s unwillingness to let go of his dignity and the hope he has for his family’s future.


Victoria Cuba


Victoria Cuba, a recent graduate of Waipahu High School, is quick to smile, loves music and wants to become a storyteller. And her bedroom is the back of a truck ― she and her family are homeless.  Despite being at an age when revealing that you and your family are living out of your car could be embarrassing, Victoria is willing to share her story, to, in her words, “make a difference.”





So, my family and I are currently in the situation where we are considered homeless. We do not have a home.


Cuba and her family have been considered homeless since May of 2013. For a while, they were staying at a beach in Ewa in their car.


It was a little cramped, of course, and couldn’t stand it because of my brother’s snoring. But we made do with what we had.


I thought, you know, this is my last year in high school; I want to make some kind of difference, some kind of impact. And also, I shouldn’t be ashamed of my story, ‘cause I shared it with my friends, and their reaction was so opposite from what I thought. They were more positive. They told me, Why didn’t you tell us? We wanted to help you. And, you know, the people I’m surrounded with and the people I care about, they encouraged me to share my story. So, that’s really what pushed me.


Seventeen-year-old Victoria Cuba had no idea how her decision to speak openly about being homeless on PBS Hawaii’s Hiki No student news, later picked up on Hawaii News Now, would turn out. With her family’s blessing, and the support of her friends, the high school senior took a chance. Victoria Cuba, next on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Victoria Cuba and her family first became homeless on Oahu when Victoria was in elementary school. They got through it with help from friends, and above all, their positive attitude. But the problems did not end. Instead, new difficulties arose as time went on.


What happened so that you ended up homeless in elementary school?


I lived with my mom and my brother, and we lived in regular houses, you know, always renting. Finally, we stayed in an apartment called the Weed and Seed. It’s a government-funded building.




So, we stayed there, and it was about ten years, so, it was really nice. But being that she was the only one working and taking care of me and my brother, it was hard for her to keep up with the rent. So, because we didn’t pay it on time, we got evicted. And when we became homeless, she always told us, You know, don’t worry, we’ll get out of this. You know, at least we have each other. And that was the one thing I always remembered. And she worked us out of that situation.


First, when you’re approaching eviction and you know you’re gonna be turned into the street, how do you decide where to go?


The first time, and this time that we’re homeless, we actually had family friends that helped us. You know, You can stay here. The first time we were homeless, we stayed in a Matson container. They’re really long shipping containers, and that was our home. I remember, like, my mom would tell me that, Oh, we should put a second one on top, and make a two-story house.


[CHUCKLE] Was that on somebody’s private property?


Yeah. It was at the junkyard in Pearl City. So, we stayed there for … let’s see … over half a year. And then, we had to move, because the river near the junkyard flooded, and we lost everything. And it wasn’t a good place to stay, because mildew and, you know, health-wise, it wasn’t well. So, we ended up staying with an auntie at our old building.


In her house?


M-hm. And we stayed with her. And eventually, my mom got enough money to find our own place. So, we stayed in Aniani, which is like right across the street from where we were living. And we stayed there for four years.


It was nice to have a house, a roof over your head.


Yes; yes. When we moved into Aniani, it made me appreciate that we had a house, ‘cause of what we’d been through. And in school, I used to get really touchy about people talking about, Oh, look at that hobo on the streets. Like, you don’t know their story; you can’t say stuff like that. You can’t say something until you’ve been in their shoes. So, you know, just to be more grateful, more appreciative of what you have.


That ended, though. What happened, then?


This time around, my mom’s health started declining. She kinda stopped going to work, ‘cause she would always go to the hospital or to the doctor’s, and she got terminated. She got laid off at her job. So, we found ourselves without income. We found ourselves getting eviction notices from the landlord constantly coming. If she came, we tried to keep as quiet as possible, ‘cause we didn’t want her coming. And we got kicked out.


So, what’s it like? You’re packing your stuff, and you’re heading to the sidewalk again.


Well, the first time, it wasn’t too bad, ‘cause I always thought, you know, my family’s here. The place we actually stayed at, I had a lot of fun. I could climb trees, and you know, we built a swing out of fire hose, so that was nice. But the second time around, I was mad at my mom. I said, How could you? In my mind, it was, How could you let your children go through this again? And I know it’s not her fault. But, you know, I was going through my rebellious stage of being a teenager, probably still am. But … I was just disappointed. Like, why do we have to go through this again a second time? We’ve already been through it.


There’s a lot of pressure on your mother. How does she keep this confidence and positive attitude going? Or does she?


The first time, I remember she did. She always reminded us constantly; you know, be grateful, be grateful. This time around, I guess it’s ‘cause of her health or stress, but I kind of felt like she gave up this time. You know, she’s currently unemployed. I asked, Are you gonna get a job? But then again, her health is, you know, wearing on her. And then, I don’t know; it’s just … I remember talking to her one night. It was when I was still mad at her. I said, You know, how come you’re not doing anything? It’s like you gave up on yourself. And then says, Yeah, I did. And I remember crying, and I said, you know, How can you give up on yourself? You still have me and Nicholas to take care of. If you give up on yourself, you’re giving up on us. So, I remember she was just quiet, and … you know, I just want to help her. She’s helped us already, and … like, I just want to pay her back.


How’s your brother doing? And how old is he?


He is fifteen. He’s still in high school. He’s in JROTC, and that really helped him. Like, he knows what he wants to go; he wants to go into the military, he wants to help my mom and our family. And by going into the military, he can do that. And he has some kinda purpose. I remember when he was in intermediate, he wasn’t doing too well grade-wise, but because he has JROTC, he has a more positive outlook, and it keeps him steady and focused.


How did the family plan the next step?


Again, a family friend helped us out. They said that we could stay in front of their house. The neighbors were really kind enough to let us stay in their stalls, so where we’re parked at.


Is it a van that you parked?


M-hm. There’s a van that we have. All of our stuff is in there, my mom’s car. And the neighbor who’s right next to where we live, he has a truck that’s like, parked right next to the van. And he said, You know, it looks a little cramped in where you guys staying, why don’t you use the truck as well. So, we threw a tarp over it, and then laid down carpet on the bed of the truck, and that became my room.


And what’s it like to have a bedroom in the back of a truck?


Um, pretty interesting. It’s messy because I made it messy. But … it’s neat to think that … you can have some kind of hideout.




Yeah. So, for me, I like to think about the positive. So, when I was living in the junkyard, it was like, we will have all these adventures I can go on. And this time it’s like, I have my own room, and … think about how many people who can have a outside room in a truck. So, that was my thinking.


The homelessness of teenager Victoria Cuba presented her with challenges that made her grow up faster than most of her friends. She worked hard to create and maintain normalcy. Still, while she was able to fit in at school, her life was very different from that of her classmates when she wasn’t at school.


Everyday simple things are so much harder when you don’t have a place to live with running water, and privacy. So, what is the routine? You know, when you wake up, where do you brush your teeth, and how do you get clean? What’s the routine? And you don’t have a refrigerator.




Of any kind. Do you have an ice chest?


We do, and we buy ice when we can. So, daily-wise, the school was kind enough to let us shower at the gym. So, we could shower there. But the thing is, we have to wake up really early.


And the janitor lets you in early?




Is that what happens?


So, we wrote to the office and the principal or the vice principal would come and take us, and they’d let us in. There’s like two separate showers, so that’s nice. Actually, the neighbor also lent us a sink, like an outside sink, so we hooked it up to a hose, and we use that to wash up, you know, stay clean. We use a hose to shower, but it gets really cold, so we have to shower during the day. But it’s nice now, because it’s really hot. Food-wise, I’m so glad we have food stamps, ‘cause you know, we can buy food on a daily basis. We don’t have to worry about that. And the first time we were homeless, we always had to worry about food. We would only have food either for that day, or would last it for the week. So, it was kinda hard.


Because you didn’t have food stamps then?


Yeah; we didn’t have. So, we were relying on my mom’s income. So then again, it made it hard for us to find a place. But this time, we have food stamps, and it’s just a lot easier now.


Yeah; and I know you’re limited in what you can buy.




But you can eat healthy foods, enough healthy food from the food stamps?


I guess, if we prepare it. [CHUCKLE] Like, as long as we cook it, and as long as it keeps out of the sun. But me and my brother …


How do you cook it? Where do you cook it?


We have a propane stove. So, another thing we have to buy is propane, which is … I guess you would say it’s inexpensive, but it’s kind of expensive if you have to buy it every week. But for me, I’m kinda easy to feed. Like, I can live off of saimin and Vienna sausage. Yeah. Vienna sausage is my favorite food, and I actually got leis for graduation made of Vienna sausage.




So, that was nice. [CHUCKLE]


What about school lunch?


We have free school lunch. And actually, I worked in the cafeteria during my junior and senior year, so you know, I’d go for breakfast and for lunch. And then, I remember one of the workers gave us food sometimes if we couldn’t afford to cook. We got paid nine dollars an hour, but then again, we only worked a couple hours a week. I mean, but it paid; it did pay.


When you’ve told people, what’s the reaction?


The first people I told was my friends. And they didn’t know. They said, you know, You didn’t look like it. That’s because every day, when I came to school, my mentality changed. I’m not focusing at home; it’s I’m focusing on school and what’s going on. And it’s good to have friends that accept you, because even after I told them, nothing changed. ‘Cause I’m still the same person, just with different circumstances. So, you know, they said, You’re always smiling, you know, always laughing, always focused. And then, I said, Yeah, ‘cause that’s what you come to school for, not to bring your problems there. I’m not sure if a lot of schools do this, but Waipahu High School has so many resources, and they really did help me and my family. And I’m sure they’re helping so much more students, ‘cause there is other students that are in the same situation.


Is it hard to not know what’s gonna come next? You know, you don’t know where your family will be living, you don’t know if your mom will have a job.


It’s not hard. I just want to share this. I remember going to this program, and we had this debate: Is life hard? And we finally figured out it’s not hard, ‘cause life isn’t hard. Hard is, you know, physically hard. It’s not hard; it’s difficult. And life is only difficult if you make it. So, it’s not difficult for me and my family. I mean, I do wonder if we are gonna get a house or not, or if we’ll get some kind of shelter. But it’s better to think on a day-to-day basis instead of thinking about, I need to do this, I need to that. You just worry yourself, and you know, you probably make your life a lot shorter by worrying about stuff like that.


Yeah; take it day-by-day.




You just said that you changed when you got to school. You were confident and focused. So, what does that mean home is like? You dropped the go-for-it attitude?


It’s not necessarily that I changed attitudes. It’s more like I focused on what was in front of me. So, I mean, I still had that kinda attitude, you know, like one day we’ll get out of this. That was more my thinking and mentality when I’m at home. You know, we’ll get out of it. We got out of it once, we can get out of it again.


Waipahu High School has so many different kinds of students. And you can kind of see people from the vantage point of somebody who’s kind of an outlier. You know, you don’t have a lot of the things that some of the other students take for granted. Do you find yourself reflecting on that?


I do; every day. And I sometimes remind my classmates. Like, when I did the interview for Hiki No, my friends were there. And in the interview, I said, You know, some students worry about … Oh, my phone is dying, or my clothes don’t match, and stuff like that. But there are other worries you have to worry about. And whenever I see that, you know, I hope I kindly tell them; I tell them that, you know, there’s things in life that you have to worry about more than just these small things.


At seventeen, Victoria Cuba has had more challenging life experiences than most people her age, and probably even people twice her age. Being the positive person that she is, she’s taking it all in and wants to do something useful with the knowledge she’s gained.


You want to be a storyteller, and you’re already noticing stories all around you. And you’ve told your own. So, that gives you a sense of what it’s like when you go public with something that has previously been on the QT. As a result of telling your story on the Hiki No program, and then also Hawaii News Now with Jim Mendoza picked up the story, you did get a lot of public reaction. What was that like? And what was it? What did people say to you? Strangers, I mean.


First of all, I checked on Facebook, you know, multimedia, and there was a lot of positive feedback, so I was really surprised. I was like, wow, you know, people think that? I thought it would have been more negative, like, Oh, send her back to wherever she came from, or something like that. The night I watched it, the next day, I was worrying, like, What is everybody else gonna think? What is gonna happen tomorrow? So, I went to school, and you know, everybody was like, Hey, you know, congratulations on our story, and you know, you’re really inspiring. A lot of teachers, a lot of students did that. And then, there were some students who, like, you know, just stared. And I got that feeling, like, Ooh, please don’t stare at me. What was running through my mind all day was that, just because of this story doesn’t mean I changed. I’m still the same person. So, you know, don’t look at me differently. [CHUCKLE] There were some strangers; like I’d be going to media events, winding up the wires, and they’d be like, Are you the girl on TV? And I’m like, Yeah. And then, they would say, you know, Can I give you a hug? ‘Cause, you know, you’re very inspirational. Even though they say I’m inspirational, just hearing that they heard my story and, you know, they want to make a difference because of it, that’s inspirational for me.


Has anyone ever given you attitude?


The first time, no. ‘Cause then again, nobody knew. This time, there were some people who are like, You don’t belong here, you need to get out. But then again, we’re not on their property, and the neighbors always say, You can’t tell them get out, they’re on our property, so you can butt out of it. Virally, like on Facebook, there has been some negative comments.


As a result of your sharing your story?


Yes. So, the first time, it wasn’t about my situation. It was more like the things I had. You know, I was dressed in a dress for my interview with Jim Mendoza. And they said, If she’s homeless, how come she has nice clothes? And it’s, you know, that’s stereotype that gets to them. And I wanted to say something, but my mom said, you know, it’s better not to.


Not to respond?




I mean, do they want you to be in rags?


I know. Right? So, I mean, just because you’re homeless doesn’t give you no excuse to not dress nicely. And the people who don’t dress nicely, it’s maybe they can’t afford to, or people aren’t helping them. So, people came to my rescue. They said, You know, just because she’s in that situation doesn’t mean this. And the people who actually gave me the clothes, they said, You know, I’m glad my clothes fit you. So, it’s like, that’s where my clothes came from. Like, just clearing the air about it. And … I don’t know; there were just some negative people. Not a lot; barely. Which I was so surprised about. But they were … you know, that ignorance that they don’t know about what it is to be homeless, or that stereotype they have in their mind.


Did people offer you money or a home, or your mom a job? Anything like that?


There’s been a lot of requests like that. I have classmates’ parents telling me that, you know, if my mom wants a job, then to contact them. People have been sending money to the school to donate, you know, for me to go to college. And my reaction to that one was that … at first, I didn’t want the money, because I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Just because I told my story doesn’t mean I earned their money. So, I told my principal that, and he said, You know, you have to look at it differently. It’s not just about you, even though it may seem right now. It’ll actually help others, and it’ll grow from that. And he said that there were other people who were willing to donate to the school itself for future students who are in the same situation. So, because of that, I felt a lot better. You know, I don’t want them to just help me; I want them to help others as well.


Did you go to prom?


Yes, I did. Actually, an anonymous donor at my school paid for my prom. ‘Cause for me, I had money, and I saved up from my checks that I got from school. And for me, it was choosing between paying for my AP test, or going to prom. And my main concern was my AP test, ‘cause it’s graded, and it’s going to college. But our student coordinator called me and she said, You know, somebody’s willing to pay for your prom; are you okay with that? And I said, Uh … you know, I do want to go to prom, but … I have to pay for my AP test too. So, I said, You know, I feel bad. But she said, You know, don’t feel bad, they want to help you. So, I accepted it, and they paid for my prom. But dress-wise, I actually went to Ross to go buy my dress. I mean, it was a more inexpensive way of going to prom.


Did you have fun?


Yes; I had a lot of fun. [CHUCKLE] Like, I didn’t want the night to end.


And you are going to be able to use money from a scholarship fund established by the school to go to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


Yes. But really, if I don’t have to use it, then I won’t use it. ‘Cause I still signed up for more scholarships outside of school, and if get word from them, then I won’t use the money. ‘Cause I really don’t feel like I’ve earned that money. I feel like I shouldn’t use it. It doesn’t feel right.


I think people meant it for you in the best possible way.


I know, but—[CHUCKLE].


Is it hard for you to accept a gift?


Kinda. I mean, I’ve been brought up by my mom, and she’s really old school fashioned. So, you know, if someone gives something to you, you have to give back. Or, you know, you shouldn’t accept too easily, because you know, there’s people who worked hard for it, and I really don’t feel like I deserve the … I guess, the gifts that people have been giving.


And so, you’re on your way to college.


M-hm; m-hm. But, you know, when I was applying for colleges, my counselor asked, Are you gonna worry about your family? And I said, Of course, ‘cause they’re my family. But she said, you know, If you want to help them, you need to focus on you and school first. And I’m a little worried about that. Like, if I’m gonna be able to focus on school if I’m worrying about my family as well. But, you know, I just have to keep thinking, the only way I’m gonna help them is if I focus on school. And, you know, I do wish I could bring my family, but it’s not possible. And my mom understands.


What got you so interested in storytelling?


When I was in this community program, one of our mentors, we called her Auntie, she got me into journal writing. I was going through a hard time with my family, and I remember I kept everything in. ‘Cause you know, when I was growing up, I always learned that your business is nobody else’s business, so you shouldn’t let it known. But one time, I just came to the program and I broke down crying, because you know, it was just everything building up. And she said, You know, you shouldn’t do that, so why don’t you put it words and write it down. So, I did that, you know, kept journals, wrote down random stuff. And I noticed that when I look back in it, like days, months later, it’s like, Wow, I’ve really been through that? It’s amazing just to see the change in yourself. I still have journals that show that. But you know, if I could see that change in myself, why can’t I do it for other people? So, that was really what got me into storytelling and hearing other people’s stories.


A lot of it is finding out how other people tick.


M-hm; m-hm. And, you know, when somebody tells you their story, they give themselves to you; a piece of themselves. So, every time a friend tells me something they’ve never told anything else, I am so grateful, and I tell them that. I tell them, you know, Thank you for sharing this with me. I know it’s hard, but you know, being that you shared it with me means you trust me.


You were one of the lead media team members on a Hiki No story about someone in your school, I believe, a blind person who had perfect pitch.


M-hm. So, his name is Rocky. Actually, his real name is Ricklong Jack; and he was in my grade. And this kid is talented, really amazing.


Did you like the process of figuring out what you were gonna ask people, how you were gonna shoot them?


What I love about Hiki No is that students are allowed the freedom to choose what they want to tell, and they have the freedom to decide how they’re gonna tell it. So, that’s what I liked about it. And, you know, it’s actually going into the production and doing things that real newscasters do. So, you know, being able to experience that kind of job ethic.


What makes the most compelling story for you to cover?


A story that nobody has told before, or something that somebody’s never said before. So, you know, those untold stories are what people want to hear.


At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2014, Victoria Cuba was starting classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, preparing to move into a dormitory and study journalism. Best wishes to teenager Victoria Cuba from Waipahu, for being such an inspiration. 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 To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go the Apple iTunes Store or visit




My name is Ricklong Jack, and I’m eighteen years old. I’m in twelfth grade at Waipahu High School.


Rick Longjack, aka Rocky, is like many students, with aspirations of becoming a singer and music producer.




Rocky has a bright future ahead of him. The challenges he faces, however, may dim his path. Rocky is visually impaired. These difficulties, however, do not discourage Rocky from seeing beyond his disabilities. Through his experiences, Rocky wants to share one message.


Don’t let your limitations stop you.


This is Victoria Cuba reporting from Waipahu High School, for Hiki No.



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


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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 To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit


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.