KENNEWICK -- Just hours after flying in from Texas, Nick Vujicic addressed a crowd of business people in the Kennewick High School auditorium.
"You know how when you're in a plane too much and you can't feel your legs?" he asked. "That's exactly where I'm at."
The audience erupted in laughter. The man born with no arms or legs had put them at ease.
Vujicic, an Australian motivational speaker without limbs, is in the Tri-Cities for a few days to spread his message of overcoming adversity and not giving in to negative thinking.
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In his first performance, the 28-year-old who describes himself as an evangelist, struck a secular tone.
Dressed in a dark suit, nimbly moving around atop a table on one bare foot with two toes, Vujicic told the crowd of about 80 that he had come to relate principles that any company could use to make its employees happier and more efficient.
He sketched out a few main principles -- obstacles are opportunities, failure equals education, courage means trying despite fear -- and illustrated them by telling the story of his life and his career as a globally successful speaker.
Despite having loving, supportive parents, Vujicic fought bullying, harassment and depression as a child. He attempted suicide at age 10.
"I was going to drown myself in the bathtub," he told the Herald earlier in the day. "But I couldn't go through with it after I visualized my mom and dad crying at my grave."
Although he was raised in a Christian home, he didn't become a believer until he was 15, he said. "I blamed God for giving me this pain," he said.
Then he read a chapter in the Bible about a blind man through whom the works of God were revealed. He began to think that God might have a plan for a man without arms or legs, too.
"I believe that if God doesn't give me arms and legs, he can make my heart stronger," Vujicic said.
At 19, he decided to become a motivational speaker after a girl was moved to tears during a speech he gave at school.
"I had no arms, no legs, no marketing skills, no particular skills as a speaker and no invitations," he told the Kennewick crowd. "But those were just opportunities to learn."
He then reenacted his pitch. It took him 52 rejections to hone his pitch and get an invite -- to talk to 10 students in a school more than two hours away.
He lost money on that first paying gig. But the next day the phone rang -- word had gotten out that he had a message.
Since then, Vujicic has started a nonprofit called Life without Limbs, traveled to 39 countries, spoken before heads of state and electrified huge crowds from Taiwan to Uganda.
His clip on YouTube titled, Look At Yourself After Watching This, has been seen more than 20 million times.
But he never can let that success define him, he said Wednesday night.
"Who do you think you would be if you actually achieved your goal?" he asked the audience. "Does your value change if you achieve your goal?"
Too many people, especially in Western countries, define themselves by what they work, what they own and what they have achieved, he said.
"But you can have all the money and still not have peace," he said.
The peace can come through self-acceptance, through not listening to doubts, through ignoring the naysayers, he said.
This message particularly has been powerful with young audiences. Starting with that girl nine years ago, who came to him crying because "nobody had ever told her they loved her," Vujicic's message has been directed at youths with low self-esteem.
"I think it's worse to come from a broken home than not having arms and legs," he said.
No stranger to bullies himself, Vujicic talks to kids about not paying attention to looks or how many friends they have, and to not tease others who are different.
One school in Hawaii reported back to him that bullying stopped after his visit. He will bring that message to Tri-City kids today and Friday, when he is visiting four schools in Kennewick, Prosser and Pasco.
He also will be the featured speaker at The Gathering, a Christian youth festival held at Bethel Church in Richland today and Friday.
In Kennewick on Wednesday, Vujicic ended the first of two presentations by letting his body drop onto the table.
"It looks pretty impossible for a man without arms and legs to get up," he said. "But even if I try a hundred times and fail, I have to keep on going."
The crowd was silent. It looked pretty impossible indeed.
Vujicic stood up with one swing of his torso.
"Only you can tell yourself when to stop trying," he said.