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Limbless speaker teaches compassion

You can tell Nick Vujicic is accustomed to putting people at ease. He has been doing it his entire life.

And it didn't seem odd that the guy with no arms and no legs was cracking jokes, skillfully bringing several hundred teenagers in Grand Island High School along with his message of inspiration.

But first, the one-liners: "They say I ran so fast I left my legs behind."

"You know when you can't feel your hands because you slept on them? That was me this morning."

When people see him for the first time, often they freak out, he said.

"You don't have to be afraid. I won't lay a hand on you," he told freshman James Bobak, who went on stage to help in a demonstration.

Vujicic, 26, was born without limbs.

"No medical reason why," he said.

He was mainstreamed into a traditional classroom -- the only one in his school in a wheelchair -- and told he "couldn't do this and couldn't do that."

He began to realize when he was a child that his self-worth was not tied to what he looked like or couldn't do. He also found that he could do many things.

"I want you to know that my value is not determined on how I look, because I am the most ugliest and weirdest person in this room," he told the students. "When people see me for the first time, they assume I've got a bad life, until I start . . . smiling and letting them know that I think possibly I like my life better than they like theirs."

Wearing a wireless microphone, Vujicic zoomed onto the stage in his wheelchair. He was lifted onto a table for his talk, in which he made fun of his "chicken drumstick" foot, hopped from one end of the table to the other, tipped himself over and righted himself.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Vujicic said he decided at 19 he wanted to become a motivational speaker while attending college. He finished his degree in accounting and financial planning, and today is president of a nonprofit group and a profit-making venture. He speaks throughout the world. Earlier this week, he was in Costa Rica.

While in Western New York, he also was scheduled to speak Thursday evening in Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence.

His visit was presented by Heritage Christian Services in partnership with WDCX Radio, Kingdom Bound Ministries and the Bridge of Love Disabilities Ministry.

His determination to spread his positive outlook caused him to keep his engagement at the school, even though he was ill. Vujicic came down with flu-like symptoms early Thursday morning but did not want to cancel his talk on Grand Island.

"There is at least one of you who will be leaving this place changed and never be the same again," he said.

His message for teenagers was one of hope.

"I want you to know that when the world says you're not good enough, get a second opinion," he said.

He said he believes fear is the greatest disability of all, and fear is in everyone.

"You have no idea how many people in this school look at themselves in the mirror and hate themselves," he said. "I love you the way that you are. Why? because that's the love that has set me free from all fear."

He challenged Grand Island students to go 24 hours without teasing or bullying each other, a challenge Principal Sandra Anzalone endorsed.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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