When Nick Santonastasso was born, he was given a 30% chance of surviving birth. One of only 12 people in the world born with Hanhart Syndrome – an extremely rare genetic disorder that caused Nick to be born with no legs, only one arm, and one finger. Growing up was hard, and Nick found himself self-loathing and thinking about ending his life.
However, more than just surviving, Nick found his WHY when he became a high school wrestler and professional bodybuilder. Now, he is sharing his experience with people all over the world as a keynote speaker at schools, non-profits, as well as Fortune 500 companies. He can even count Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Tony Robbins among his admirers.
I’m meeting Nick for the very first time today on the podcast. He shares stories of how he overcame his limitations to achieve everything he’s ever wanted, so that you can do the same.
You’ll hear about what he did to survive the darkest years of his life, and how he’s built a truly extraordinary career out of using challenges to inspire people to push through their suffering and live life without limitations – just like he does.
- Why Nick lives in a state of gratitude despite having been born with an extremely rare genetic condition – and how he screens out naysayers, haters, and lists of things doctors told his parents he’d never be able to do.
- How his parents putting challenges and hardships in front of him at an early age and enrolling him in a regular school helped him see things in terms of “how,” not “can’t.”
- Why being part of a team helped Nick dig himself out of the worst years of his life – and how he found his calling after deciding to cut his arm off to become a wrestler in high school.
- How Nick gained 50,000 followers on Vine overnight, spread his message, got banned from his local Wal-Mart, and got his first high-profile job: pranking Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus.
- What Nick did to break into speaking, writing, and much more in less than 9 months – and where his confidence in his ability to learn may take him next.
NICK SANTONASTASSO SAID IT… CLICK TO TWEET
When we start focusing on trying to serve others, trying to do what we love but serving others at the same time, amazing opportunities come into our life.” – Nick Santonastasso
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Hal: Hello. Welcome, goal achievers. How’s it going? Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast. This is your host and friend, Hal Elrod, and today I am excited you’re going to see somebody that I am being introduced to for the first time. I know a lot of times I bring people onto the podcast who are friends of mine, who are acquaintances of mine, or who I’ve connected with before and this is actually the first time that I’m connecting with – and, Nick, I meant to ask you this before we got started, how do I pronounce your last name?
Nick: That’s like the number one question. So, the last name is Santonastasso.
Hal: Santonastasso. All right. While it’s hot on my tongue then, I’m going to give you a formal introduction, so our listeners know who you are. So, everybody, listen up, Nick he is quite special. When Nick was conceived he had a 30% chance of surviving birth and Nick was one of 12 people in the world at the time who was born with Hanhart Syndrome. It’s a rare genetic disorder and Nick was self-loathing and thought about ending his life for quite some time and fortunately, he was able to find his why through wrestling in high school and now Nick is sharing his experience with people all over the world as a keynote speaker at schools, universities, nonprofits as well as Fortune 500 companies and he’s using his challenges to inspire others to push beyond their suffering and live a life that has no limits. And Nick has already inspired and helped other giants in today’s world such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk and many more and I’ll be sure to ask him about those interactions because I am curious but, Nick, man, everybody I have spoken with about you like I said had just raved about you and it’s truly an honor to finally meet face-to-face here.
Nick Santonastasso: Absolutely, brother. I’m grateful for the opportunity and same. I’ve heard so much about you through our little network, so I’ve heard nothing but great things so I’m just grateful to be here.
Hal: Cool, man. That’s cool. I appreciate that. We hang out with some good people.
Nick Santonastasso: We do. We got a good tribe. We got a good tribe.
Hal: Yeah. Or they’re just full of it and they just say nice things about us. I don’t know. Either way, it’s good. It’s good.
Nick Santonastasso: Either or.
Hal: So, dude. So, tell me, so take us back to the beginning, man. There’s a 30% chance of living. You’re born with this rare disorder, Hanhart Syndrome. So, was that detected when you were in your mom’s womb?
Nick Santonastasso: Yeah. So, basically, I’m the baby so I have three other siblings. I have two older sisters and an older brother, and it was my mom’s last pregnancy, and everything was going fine and basically, they went in for a late ultrasound. So, she was having an ultrasound. Everything was fine and then they went in for like a later one and they sat my parent’s down, and the doctors pulled up me, the baby, on the screen and they have a little bit of puzzled face and they said, “Well, something’s wrong,” and my parent’s like, “What do you mean something’s wrong?” and he says, “Well, from the looks of it, it doesn’t look like your child’s limbs are being fully developed. It looks like he doesn’t have legs. It looks like he’s missing his arm,” and through that, they did a little bit more research and they classified me with Hanhart Syndrome.
And like you were saying, Hanhart Syndrome is a super rare genetic disorder that either leaves the babies with undeveloped limbs or undeveloped organs. And I just turned 22 on May 20. I was born in 1996 and at the time of my birth, I was the 12th baby in medical history that they’ve ever seen this happen to. So, basically, they looked at my parents and said, “Your son is going to be the 12th. Eight of the babies have passed away due to undeveloped organs so that means the babies are born with, they can’t breathe on their own, they can’t eat on their own, and they’re hooked up to machines and they, later on, pass away.” So, my parents, they look at each other and they said, “We’re just going to see where life take this.” We can’t control this so we’re just going to see where life takes this and hope for the best, be very optimistic about it.
Hal: Wow. And you were born and into this day if anybody’s watching the video, so explain the state of your limbs now.
Nick: Yeah. So, I was born, and I was born missing my legs, so I’m born with no legs. So, I have some quad but no legs. I have this limb and then I have this arm, a full arm with just one finger on it and the first thing they did was do tests on my organs. Is the kid going to live? My organs came back 100% healthy like all of my organs like nothing was wrong. The only thing that was affected were my limbs and that’s where I go into living in a state of gratitude, how important living in a state of gratitude is one of my key messages I always preach because that is so important. And I think we all get caught up in day-to-day life. Our day-to-day life is very hectic, and we forget to just like stop and just like feel grateful for things.
Hal: Yeah, dude. I’m 100% on the same page with you, absolutely. So, your parents they have faith, they had you. Were there already complications early on or was it you just growing up with kind of only one limb?
Nick: Yeah. So, growing up, basically when I was born, the doctors basically handed over a list to my parents and this was the list of, “Here are all the things your son won’t be able to do. Your son won’t be able to drive your car, your son won’t be able to walk, your son won’t be able to dress himself, be independent.” And that’s where immediately I labeled that as the outside noise and I say the outside noise where I was going to have haters, always going to have naysayers, people that don’t think we’re good enough, put these limits on us. My parents decided like, “Although you’re doctors, I’m not going to let you put these limits on my son. I’m going to see what my son’s capable of doing.” And that was huge. My parents the way they raised me, I’m extremely grateful for that because I wouldn’t have the mindset that I do. I wouldn’t be the man I am today and what I mean by that is from the earliest of ages, my parents like sat me down and they would put things in front of me like my parents would put, in the most polite way, they would put me in a high chair and put food and a utensil and say, “Nick, figure it out.” Where they put clothes in front of me and say, “Nick, you’re going to have to figure it out because mom and dad are not going to be here forever.”
The importance behind that is like from the earliest of ages they basically sat me down and said, “Nick, the world is not going to stop for you because you’re born like this. I know this is the case, this is the hand life has dealt you with, but nothing is going to slow down for you.” And that got me, my parents putting challenges in front of me, putting these hardships in front of me at an early age. They got my mindset in the rhythm of, okay, things are going to be hard, but it’s not can’t. It’s how. I’m just going to have to take different approaches on things. I’m just going to have to – some things may take a little bit more time for me but by my parents putting these challenges in front of me at an early age, I got a glimpse of reality and realize that I’m just going to have to figure out how to do things Nick’s way.
Hal: Wow, man. Bless those parents.
Hal: Growing up like going to school, what was that – did you go to a special school? Did you go to regular school?
Nick: Yeah. So, I went to a regular school and it’s funny because I think I’m 22 years old now, so the world was always changing. It was a little bit different back then and one of the things that is just so amazing by my parents is I think at that time, people, society tend to hide way disabilities, kids with disabilities, put them in institutions. My parents had like the total opposite outlook. My dad was like, “Everyone’s going to know who my son is. Everyone’s going to know who my son is and what he’s capable of doing.” And my parents they got in contact with the mayor, the local mayor in New Jersey where I was from and got the whole community behind Baby Nicholas like I was a famous figure like as a baby like Baby Nicholas and people came together for walkathons to raise money and my parents just went against the grain. It was like, “We’re not going to hide this kid. He’s beautiful baby boy and we’re going to share what he’s about.”
So, I went to a regular school and so at first like preschool my mom worked in the same preschool. My dad was actually one of my bus drivers way early on, but I went to a regular school and I have to admit like before middle school I didn’t realize I was different like I didn’t realize any of this. I didn’t realize the aid, I didn’t realize the wheelchair. I had like the best set of environments, like the kids, my friends, like I didn’t run into teasing and bullying at a super early age. I was just a kid living life and then middle school. Middle school was a big slap in the face for me and I think if you’re a parent and I think we can all agree the listeners that middle school and high school are probably the most judgmental times of our lives when we’re going through them.
Hal: So, I got into middle school and it was a big slap in the face for me. I realized the wheelchair. I realized that the kids were taller than me. I realize that although I wasn’t any slower mentally that because I was in a wheelchair people thought I was lower. It’s these little things and I also realized some name-calling or pointing and whispering. Because I was born in this body and I was just like I can always sense that stuff because my whole life I had to deal with it. So, my middle school I label that as like my lowest point and we all have low points, and middle school was my low point. I was depressed. I got to a point where I was absolutely disgusted with living in this body like why me? I was going through this why? Because billions of people born and like, “Why do I have to be born like this? Why do have to go through all these challenges?” And I had no confidence, not comfortable in my skin, and it got to a point where I didn’t want to look into a mirror. I didn’t want to go into public and like I said, it got to a point where I thought the best route would be like ending it because I didn’t want to live in this body anymore.
Hal: What ages were those or what years?
Nick: Like 12. This is like 12 through like 15, 16 like it was just a dark time for me. Because honestly, just like why?
Hal: Obviously, from you being born, the decision to have you be born and the decision for you to go to a normal school and so obviously, your parents were really positive. What type of support and interaction would they provide? Like, what did they say to you during that dark time?
Nick: Now, this is a great question because I don’t think anyone asked me this question and it’s something that I could touch on is, to be honest, I realized in an early age that I was the glue of the family like I was the lantern of the family. So, I put on this mask like through that time I didn’t want to let my parents know that I was because I knew that would affect, it would be a trickle effect when I did that. The energy that I gave off was attractive. People like that so I was like, “I don’t want to let my family know. I don’t want to let my parents know that I’m in this dark time and I’m just going to deal with it. I’m good to figure out how to deal with it.” And that’s when I realized that I’m in the slump and I’m in this hole and the only person and I told these people now to this day the only person that’s going to make a drastic change in your life whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, the only person that can get you out of your hole is you.
I was like, “Nick, you have one life,” and I don’t want to live this life feeling like this, the state I’m in. I’m depressed and have zero confidence and I just don’t feel comfortable in my body. So, I realized that I didn’t want to let that negative energy trickle into the family and my friends and so I needed to figure out a way to dig myself out of that and that’s when high school came in. My freshman year I was like, “Okay. I’m going to find a sport, or I want to find like a club that I could be a part of.” Maybe I could get a better support system. I’ll be doing that activity, I’ll feel better about myself and it’s funny because we’re still best friends to this day like I talk to them like yesterday and my best friend he was a wrestler his whole life but for some reason his freshman year he started to bowl. He was a bowler for my high school and he was like, “Nick, bowling is pretty easy. You get to eat some cheese fries like I think you could do it.” I’m like, “Dude, for sure. I wanted sports. I want to try an activity.” So, my freshman year I came out for my bowling team and I remember that you have your varsity and your JV sports. So, your varsity is your starting lineup and your JV is not your starting lineup and I remember our varsity team is really good and our JV team was undefeated until I joined the team. I gave our bowling team one of their first loss, but it was my first taste of being part of a team and being called an athlete and that made me feel good, just little things, basically doing things that make me feel fulfilled or made me feel part of something. So, I did bowling, and it was kind of like a glimpse of the taste of what it would be to be a part of a team.
Hal: And that was freshman year?
Nick: Yeah. That was my freshman year. It’s my freshman year of high school and then I went throughout that year and I realize that I wanted some much more. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to do much more. In my sophomore year that same friend, he went back to wrestling. So, he wrestled his whole life. He bowled his freshman year and he’s like, “Dude, I’m just going to do wrestling,” and all my other friends were stud wrestlers from my high school and I’m from New Jersey where wrestling is very like competitive. It’s like high-level and so all my best friends were wrestlers and my older brother who’s about six years older than me, I didn’t get to high school with him, but he wrestled for that same exact high school. He wrestled for that same exact high school, so I feel like I organically looked up to wrestlers and I was always going to his matches supporting him. I thought they were like the coolest thing ever like wrestlers who’s just so like so dope.
And so, my sophomore year my friends were like, “Nick, you always try new things, you always tell people to try new things like why don’t you try wrestling? Like we’re all wrestlers. It’s a bunch of your buddies. Why don’t you try wrestling?” And I’m like, “I can’t. My arm.” And what I mean by that is this arm was actually like 5 inches longer than it is now and my bone was growing faster than my skin so basically it was like your finger but super tight and supersensitive. I couldn’t really touch it on things because if I would hit my arm hard enough, my bone would’ve come through my skin. So, I made like a conscious decision within myself. I was like, “I could become a wrestler.” I had so much good energy toward wrestlers. I look up to them. I was like, “If I could be a wrestler, I’d be a stud athlete. It would build my self-confidence, it would make me feel better, and more comfortable with my skin,” and I made that decision within myself. I was like, “I need to become a wrestler,” so I came home one day. I’m a 16-year-old kid. I came home. I waited for both my parents to get home and I sat them down. I said, “Mom and dad, I want to be a wrestler,” and my mom was like, “Oh God, Nick. God forbid, wrestling is the most physical sport. You hit your arm, your bone comes through your skin. What are you going to do then?” And I’m a 16-year-old kid. I looked at my parents and I said, “Can we cut it off?” And they were like, “What?”
Nick: Yeah. Like, “Can we do something about it? This isn’t serving me like can we do something about it?” And I always tell people my parents supported me in everything and anything I wanted to do but this was a little bit different. And so, after a couple of hours of persuasion and I always tell people, “If you’re going to focus your energy on something whether it’s a goal or building a business or try to become a wrestler, you need to give it 110% effort or you’re literally selling yourself short. We deserve to be great. We don’t like you’re letting yourself down.” So, I talked to my parents. I said, “This is something that I really want to do,” and my sophomore year we scheduled by amputation. So, what they did was they scheduled an amputation and they lasered about I don’t know if you could see the scars here. But so basically, they lasered about 5 inches of my bone off and then pulled skin from up here. They did a skin graft so that’s pulling skin from up here then pulling it over to the bone, so I can have a cushion. I remember telling the surgeon, I’m like, “Just need cushion like don’t make it hurt like when I wake up I want to be able to beat people up with this.”
I remember so I went ahead, and I did my surgery and I had a bunch of stitches in my arm and it was like ghost limb. I could still feel my limb, but it wasn’t there. Freaky. And I remember like I went back to school, and I was the happiest kid that just cut his arm off. I remember like going back to school and I was like people were like, “Dude, what did you just do?” I was like, “You know, I cut my arm off. I’m going to become a wrestler.” And people laughed. They were like, “Dude, really? Like, how do you become an athlete let alone a wrestler? It’s the most physical sport. You know, you got no legs and one arm.” And it’s the same cycle, Hal, it’s the same cycle of the haters, the naysayers, and I always tell people that we have that choice. My parents have that choice, you have that choice, we have that choice, and that is how are we going to let the outside noise affect us. We have a choice and that’s either letting it sink us or elevate us. And my whole life I chose to use the hating, the teasing, all this stuff, the doctors. I used that as fuel to elevate myself. I use that as fuel to motivate myself, jet fuel to obtain my vision. And so, I went back to school and people were like, “Dude, how you’re going to become a wrestler? You got no leg and one arm,” and I looked at this people and I said, “You’re right. I’m not going to become a wrestler. I’m going to become a varsity wrestler.”
Nick: And it was just like people were just like, “Dude,” like the same old cycle of people and I think from me being born and the doctors immediately putting these limits on me, I always carried a chip on my shoulder but in a good way. Just proving people wrong. So, after I went through the rehabilitation and I healed up, my junior year I went out for my wrestling team and like we said, we have your JV and your varsity and I remember going into the room and it was the majority of my buddies but some people I didn’t know and I remember telling them, I said, “Guys, you need to beat me up like you need to beat me up, you need to slam my face in the mat as hard as you can, as many times as you need because if you hold back on me, I’m not going to know how to become the best wrestler I could possibly be.” And it’s the same thing for my parents. If my parents gave me everything and put a bubble around me and didn’t let me fall on my face, I wouldn’t have this mentality. I wouldn’t be the man I am today, so I was like, “Guys, you need to beat me up,” and they did. They didn’t hold back on me. And my junior year I was like one in 20. I was one in 20 and my only win was, this was my JV record, my only win was my coach putting me up for a varsity forfeit so I can get my varsity jacket. And I came off the mat I was like, “I didn’t earn this.” I just did. And so, I needed to figure out the best ways for me to become the best possible wrestler in my situation.
Hal: Let me pause. What was that like mentally for you? So, you have this, “I’m going to be a badass wrestler like this is a dream. I’m one of the guys now,” and then you’re 0 for 20 or 1 for 20 like what was that like mentally like losing match after match after match after match after match? I want to know that because I think that is such an important lesson. I want to hear your mindset around this because we all go through failure and in a lot of people after the first failure they stop. Well, they didn’t even go for the first attempt because they’re afraid of that failure or the first failure stopped or maybe the second or the third. So, how did you lose 20 matches in a row? What was that mindset that you have?
Nick: Yeah. So, it’s funny you said that so let me rewind real quick. When I was like 12 or 13, I was on The Today Show and I remember going, you can look at this episode, as a 12-year-old kid I remembered telling Ann Curry I said in my squeaky voice I’m like, “Failure is your best friend,” and I think I realized that from a way earlier age because everything that I attempted, Hal, I fell on my face. Everything, and I didn’t get everything like first try. Getting on a chair, feeding myself, I fail that all the time, but I realize that that is where you grow. That’s where you figure out different approaches, different perspectives. And so, from an early age, I realized that I need to go through some hard times to figure out how to be good at things. I need to fail, I need to fall on my face, and that’s what I always tell people. When I’m speaking on stage or when I’m speaking to kids, I say, “The majority of you when I say the word failure or defeat, you will correlate it with negative.” People think defeating or falling on your face is bad but that is where the most personal growth comes from.
So, I think I realized, trust me, don’t get me wrong like I came off the mat crying sometimes because I just like I was like, “I can’t get a break. I can’t get a break,” but for me if I self-reflect and then I look back on my sophomore year I’m like, “Well, Nick, you’re on the mat like you got this taken care of, you got your arm taken care of, you got on the mat, you’re part of the team. You know, that’s progress. Progress is a thing.” So, although the 20 losses it sucks, it sucks getting beat up, and this is physical sports like people are beating you up and for myself, it was just coming off the mat and then, okay, what can I do different? What can I do in the room that’s going to make me a better wrestler? And the one thing that I wanted to touch on was when I wanted to become a wrestler, the only little hump, the only little challenge that I saw I had was my arm. I didn’t see my body. I didn’t see that as a challenge because I knew that my hard work and dedication if I worked harder than the full-bodied guys that this wouldn’t matter. My hard work and dedication would make up for my lack of limbs. I believed that.
And so, through junior year I figured out that I need to use my head as another hand. So, I need to use my head as another defense so what I would do is I would practice neck bridges so holding myself up on my back, on my neck, and strengthen my neck, or have my coach or my teammates come over and continuously maul on my head and strengthen my neck because that way when I’m at a match and I’m using my head as my first level of defense, they can’t move me. My neck is so strong and also with having a strong neck in wrestling if both your shoulder blades touch, you give up the max amount of points. You give up a pin. That’s six points. I said, “Well, if I go to my back and my neck is strong enough then they can’t pin me. They’ll have to beat me in points, but they won’t get the full amount of points.” So, my guys always joke around me they’re like, “Ask Nick. He knows how many lights are on the gymnasium ceiling,” because I was always on my back, but I had the strongest neck bridge like people couldn’t put me down.
And so, my junior year like I figured out little things for me to get up on people and just ways that I can be a better wrestler and my senior year I came out as the 106-pound varsity wrestler from my high school and this was like we talk about moments of confirmation, reassurance, like this was like a moment for me. This was like a little confidence boost, so I was like, “Nick, look what you accomplish when you really set your mind to something and you didn’t care about the outside noise. You use it as fuel and you work your butt off.” And so, my senior year I came out as the varsity spot and I was like amazed by it, but this is also a confidence booster for me because now I’m a varsity wrestler. Now, I’m really with the boys because my junior year I was JV, so I like I would wrestle before the boys went out and I weren’t so good. I go to these JV tournaments where I wasn’t with my friend so senior year I was with the boys.
I was finally with the boys and I was still at this moment of I was still at like still that’s going through my head. I didn’t get my answer to my why and I always say wrestling saved my life because although I was gaining confidence and I was being a wrestler I still had that why me, why me, and also, I was at this point of like what am I going to do after high school? What am I going to do in college? What am I going to study? I can’t work regular jobs like other kids so that was also going through my head like stressing about that. And my senior year I was like 2 in 17. My senior year I was 2 in 17 and I beat legit like two guys that was full-bodied and I always tell people, I’m like, “Two in 17. You know what that means? That is two more wins I got the previous year,” and that’s what helped me.
Hal: That’s right.
Nick: That’s what I go tell people, “In life, we’re always trying to progress. We always want to move forward and if you’re not moving forward, you’re dying if you’re not growing.” And so, like even to show people paint the picture for them that that two wins, those two little wins, that’s winning. That’s progress for me even the 17 losses, that wasn’t as many losses as I got the previous year. So, little things like that were wins but my senior year like I said I wasn’t the best wrestler, but I would have gymnasiums packed to watch me wrestle. I get standing ovations when I lost, and I was pissed off. I’m like, “Why are you clapping for me if I just lost?” Like, I’m very competitive. You’re not supposed to applaud losing so like why? And this is where I found my why. I came off the mat and I had a lady come up to me and she was crying and I’m like, “Oh my God, what did I do wrong?” And she’s like, “Nick, I want to thank you,” and I said, “Well, for what?” And she said, “Well, my daughter never wanted to do a sport. My daughter never wanted to do an extracurricular activity until she saw you out there doing all these things. You motivated them. You shifted her perspective. You did something and now she wants to try all these things. I want to thank you for getting her out of the zone.” And here I am that was like my mind-blowing moment, my quantum moment. I’m like, “Oh my God, I was on the mat for myself. I was on the mat trying to build me up and I was motivating and changing lives passively.” I was like, “Imagine how many lives I could change for the better, how many perspectives I could change for the better if I focus my energy in helping people?” And that’s when I realized that like I’m an example like, “Nick, you were put on this earth in this situation to show people what they’re capable of.” And that was like my why.
Hal: That was senior year?
Nick: I haven’t let you chime in.
Hal: No. And that was senior year?
Nick: That was my senior year.
Hal: Is that when you started like when you got clear on the why that you could help other people, how long before you connected the dots with like what that would look like meaning I could write a book or I could be a speaker?
Nick: Yeah. So, at the time I was a senior. That was 2014 and that’s when the app Vine came out. Do you know…
Hal: Yeah. It was like six-second videos or something? Yeah.
Nick: At the time like Vine was super popping and you could post six-second videos. So, you had to be as creative as you can in six seconds so here I am. I realized that wrestling gave me enough confidence to put myself on social media because social media could be a very nasty place and people could say whatever they want to you, but I realize I was like, “Well, as me and you were speaking, there are millions and millions of adults and kids that don’t feel comfortable in their skin. They felt just like me. They don’t have confidence.” And so, I was like I want to create a viral video. I want to create something that has never been done before and I’ll get to the message. I’ll explain it and then I’ll get the message. So, I’m saying to my friends I’m like, “You know, I want to post something that’s never been done before. We got to be as creative as we can in six seconds.” I said, “Guys, what is never been done? Because if I post something that’s never been done and it’s cool, it’s got to like pick up. It’s got to get attraction.” And I said, “Well, how many legless guys do you see crawling around Walmart pretending to be a zombie?” They’re like, “No one. No one did that,” and I was like, “Hey, that’s a good idea.” Senior year in high school I had regular clothes on. I put fake blood on my face, I put fake blood on my clothes, and I went to my local Walmart in New Jersey which I’m not allowed in that Walmart anymore. I get kicked out every time.
Hal: I could imagine.
Nick: Yeah. But so basically, we went to this Walmart and we were looking for a victim and so we’re looking down the aisle and I see this guy and he’s holding paper towels. He’s very invested in Bounty. He’s trying to figure out which paper towels are the best and I said, “Guys, pull out your phone.” And so, I come around this corner real fast and I’ve been crawling, and I go, “Rawr!” and so he turns around and he throws the paper towels at my face and like he’s just scared and I’m like, “Oh my God,” I’m like told him, “Dude, just a prank like sorry,” and I looked at my friends like, “Was that six seconds?” They’re like, “Dude, we got that all in six seconds.” I’m like. Oh my God,” so I remember it was a school night and I was going home and I…
Hal: This was still senior year?
Nick: Yeah. That’s my senior year. And I remember I told myself, I told my family and my friends I said, “Guys,” then my goal was 500 people, “if 500 kids or adults see this and say, ‘Wow, look how happy Nick is in this situation like look how happy Nick is just living life to the fullest, maybe I could be a little bit happier in mine.’ That’s all I wanted. That people say like, ‘Dude, look at him joking around in his situation. Maybe I could be a little bit happier with what I got.’” I posted the video. I went to sleep. I woke up and it went internationally viral. It had over 80,000 likes and over 80,000 re-Vines and like literally I gained 50,000 followers on Vine in a day like it was just booming like people have never seen something like this.
Hal: That’s crazy. How fun for anybody to be in high school and have that happen. That’s cool.
Nick: Yeah. I’m going back to high school and people are like, “Dude, [inaudible]. This is amazing.” I’m like, “What did I just do? Like what did I just start?” And the amazing thing is like there was news articles all over the world from like Africa, Europe, like you name it, but the one article headline that stood out to me the most was “NJ Teen Born with a Disability Turned It to a Positive” and that’s all I wanted. That was my goal. I was like, “Wow. People are seeing that like they’re seeing my message,” and I realized that I was onto something. So, for a year, under a year I posted a bunch of pranks, I posted a bunch of funny videos of me just being me and I gained a million followers in under a year. Yeah. So, I built this outlet on Vine and exactly what I wanted to do was to show people and that led me to getting hired by Fox International to scare the main actor of the Walking Dead in Tokyo, Japan. If you go on YouTube and you type in Norman Reedus prank or Walking Dead Prank. Norman Reedus was the guy from The Boondock Saints.
Hal: So, they flew you out to Japan to do this prank? That’s amazing.
Nick: Yeah. I was a little senior in high school and I got paid for it, I got to bring my parents out to Japan like first-class like I felt like the man.
Hal: That’s cool.
Nick: That’s what I would always tell people is when I started focusing on others, when I started focusing on just trying to bring joy or laughter and strength in others, amazing opportunities came into my life and that’s the same thing for not only me but everyone. All of us like when we start focusing on trying to serve others, trying to do what we love but serve others at the same time, amazing opportunities come into our life. So, yeah, if you go on YouTube and you type in like “walking dead prank” like you’ll see that prank, but I got a few of that.
Hal: That’s beautiful, man. And to your point, I really believe that most people like in life and I don’t know if it’s human nature or condition but is to get as much as you can out of life. There’s even a lot of motivational quotes like, “Squeeze every drop like get as much as you can out of life,” and when you focus on getting as much as you can, it’s very stressful because you’re always measuring, “Did I get enough? Did I get as much as he or she did?” But when you do what you’ve done, and you shift your focus from getting to giving and instead of focusing on getting as much as you possibly can on every situation, you focusing how you can give as much as you can every situation, it’s liberating. So, getting is stressful, giving is liberating. And it liberated you from it sounds like a lot of your body issues and all these things of like when it was about when you’re looking in the mirror going, “Am I getting what I want? Why me why me?” It creates all sorts of stress and anxiety but when you look in the mirror and you look past the mirror, you’re like, “Hey, how can I help that person or that person or that person?” That’s how you find fulfillment, man. And it’s just beautiful to hear that you’ve done that. It’s awesome, man.
Nick: Absolutely. And that is like when I speak to kids like because you know these kids are going through a lot of things nowadays and I always tell them and even adults, I’m like, “The things when I was at that low point, the things that I felt were the most negative and the most disgusting things about me turned out to be my biggest empowerment and my biggest influences like I wouldn’t be doing what I am if I wasn’t in this body.” So, just like switching my, yeah exactly, switching my focus and how much like what can I give to people, how much can I give, and even to this day now I realize the like how much you give, how much value you can bring to someone and that’s what I always tell people like the people’s BS meters are very good nowadays. So, if you want to stand out, be genuine because there’s not that many genuine people on this earth and whether we’re talking in corporates or realtors I’m like, “When you drop the dollar sign over your client’s head and you start looking at them as genuine people and you’re present with them and they feel like they’re loved and they’re cared for, that’s how you get referrals, that’s how you’ll get a bigger paycheck but you’re also caring for people and people feel that.” People feel when you’re just trying to, “What can I get out of this person?” People feel that. So, it’s always like win-win situation and so like building relationships and being genuine is also another thing that I preach because as genuine people, there’s not many of us.
Hal: Yeah, dude. Dude, you and I are kindred spirits. I love you, Nick. Man, I love listening to you. So, now what are you doing now? Now you’re a speaker, right? That’s like your main focus. Why don’t you tell me, A, how did you get into speaking? Is this a new thing for you? And what’s your focus moving forward?
Nick: Yeah. So, right now the main focus is speaking so after the Vine thing, I realized that I had all this following doing the pranks, but it didn’t fulfill me and when I have kids and grandkids, I want them to know me for much more than that guy crawling on Walmart. So, I started listening and I started bodybuilding and I always tell people all these industries that I go into whether it’s taking over the bodybuilding, modeling, and speaking, whatever it may be, I didn’t know how to do any of these things but that’s the beauty and life is we are the architects of our life. In each and every day we have the ability to learn whatever we want to learn and implement it, but we got to take action. So, for bodybuilding it was trial and error, figuring out what movements worked for me, how to live, getting my diet in, and that was the same thing for going into the fitness industry. I wanted to break into the bodybuilding and fitness and for the first year, people didn’t take me serious. I didn’t know what I was doing but my knowledge in nutrition got better, my knowledge in training got better, and then my physique started to change, and people were like, “Wow. This kid’s serious.” And I’ll leeway this into speaking I promise.
Hal: All right. And then we got to wrap up with The Rock story, right? I want to hear that.
Nick: So, for first year, didn’t get much love in fitness and then my body started to change. I built a huge following in fitness. I brought my Instagram from 25,000 to right now we’re over 400,000 on Instagram. So, at that time, I was like, “Well, if I get super and in good shape, people can’t take that away from me and I could tie that into speaking. It’s more motivational if I’m in shape or if I actually practice what I’m preaching and everything.” So, yeah, I’ll get into the Rock story now, a leeway. So, I moved to Tampa a year ago, a year this month and I promised everyone I said, “I’m going to step on the competitive bodybuilding stage before 2017 was over.” So, basically, I always tell people like, “When you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, you’re forced to learn, you’re forced to level up and figure out what you need to do.”
So, I did a 12-week preparation and I was two weeks out from my show and it was September and so, I went out to Vegas for Mr. Olympia which is the biggest bodybuilding competition. And I talk about moments of being guided and this was a moment being guided so the expo was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I went to the expo Friday, went to the expo Saturday and then Sunday I decided to just chill at the hotel in the pool. And then after doing that, I was like, “You know, guys, let’s go to the gym.” So, I go to this famous gym. It’s called City Athletic Club in Vegas and right when I go in, one of my buddies is like, “Dude, The Rock is upstairs lifting.” I’m like, “Really? Cool.” I was like, “Can I still lift? Like, I still need to get my lift in.” And so, lo and behold, I go up there and there’s Dwayne and he’s got like four security guards and he’s doing dips and he’s all bundled up and I looked at my friends, I said, “Don’t bother this guy. If The Rock. is who he says he is…” He already knows my videos through lifting. He’s already re-posted some of my stuff.
Hal: Oh really? Oh, nice.
Nick: So, I was like, “This guy already knows who I am. If he sees me, he’ll come up, I promise. He won’t just like not come up to me.” And so, we’re lifting and then The Rock goes over into the corner and he takes off his headphones and people bombard him for pictures and like I looked at my team and I’m like, “I promise, guys. Like just calm down. It will happen.” And then like five minutes later his security guard comes up to me and goes, “Can Dwayne meet you?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I’m flipping.
Hal: You’re like, “Ah, well, I’m kind of busy.”
Nick: They bring me into the corner. I have this all filmed too, and he comes up and I high-fived him and he gets down on my level and he’s like, “Dude, I’m a big fan, like I love what you do,” and I’m like, “Dude, I’m a big fan. Are you kidding?” And we’re talking, and I told him I said, “I’m going to do what you did,” and he goes, “Well, what do you mean by that?” I go, “Well, you’re The Rock, right? People knew you for football and then people knew you for WWE Wrestling and then you just took over every industry, the acting, the modeling like you do everything.” I said, “I’m going to do what you did.” And he’s like, “Nick, you’re right because people like me and you they put us in any industry and we adapt and overcome.” And I was like, “Oh my God, just like another moment of reassurance that like I’m in the right direction.” And I told him about my competition. We took a piece like, “Can I get a picture with you?” I’m like, “Dude, I was going to ask you.”
Hal: Yeah. It’s nice when the script is flipped and the guy you’re a fan of is coming after you. It’s awesome, man.
Nick: Fan, yeah. So, two weeks later we took a picture, a hug, and then later two weeks later I’m backstage, I’m pumping up for my bodybuilding competition. I’m backstage. I’m about to make history and my trainer comes running up to me. He goes, “Dude, The Rock just posted you on his Instagram.” So, he remembered the dates and he remembered when I was – and he posted this picture on Instagram which this picture gets shared like all the time on all social medias now but if you scroll down on his Instagram far enough you’ll see it. And Dwayne wrote this really long heartfelt message and at the end, he goes, “I want to thank Nick for sharpening my perspective a little bit more on life.” I was like, “Oh my God,” and at that time I was doing some speaking, but it was more reassurance that what I was doing like in my situation, my story, everything I was doing if I can motivate and change the perspectives of the top tier of the world, I can (motivate) the whole entire world.
So, that was like an amazing moment and the most amazing confirmation moment for me and now like to this day The Rock only follows 200 people on Instagram and I’m one of them and he comments on my stuff. He’s on my vision board, my manifestation of like I’m going to do a movie with The Rock. I’m going to collab with The Rock in much more ways. It’s not done but it’ll happen like it’ll eventually happen. So, he comments on my stuff and we keep in contact, but I know something amazing is going to happen.
Hal: That’s so cool, man. I’m proud of you, Nick. That’s rad, dude. That’s fun.
Nick: Yeah. With the speaking, I moved to Tampa and another moment of guided with a mutual friend I went to a mastermind meeting. I went to a mastermind meeting and basically just a bunch of entrepreneurs talking about goals and different perspectives and I met my manager, Ratmir, who’s next to me now. He’s sitting next to me now and for the first session, I didn’t talk. I was just like very passive just like I didn’t know anyone and then second session Ratmir was like, “Dude, like what’s your story like I need to know.” And so, I told him my story and from that moment like Ratmir was like, he was heavily like he volunteered for Tony Robbins, was doing a bunch of stuff. He’s like, “Dude, you can move the world. You’re unbelievable,” and he was literally like sold on me the first second and at first I was like, “Dude, I don’t know you,” and he’s like, “Well, let’s do work like I’ll do work for free. No contracts. I’ll get you booked. Let’s go do things and I’ll prove myself to you.”
Nick: And a couple of months later like we started a company together and it was to tackle the speaking industry. It was to tackle the personal development industry and break into it, be the underdog, and it was just figuring out the ins and outs, figuring out referrals, figuring out how you get books, the speaking fee, all that like you’re a speaker so just learning everything. And fast forward, how many months has it been? Nine months. It’s been like nine months since we have the company and I’ve spoken on stages with Gary. I’ve spoken I’m about to do work with Tony Robbins. I’m about to schedule a tour in China like we’re going to do a world tour in China but like I didn’t know how to do any of these things. That is the big lesson behind this. I didn’t know how to do any of the things, but I was confident in my ability to learn what I needed to learn and implement.
Hal: Yeah. Beautiful man. Well, you are an inspiration and, dude, I got to talk about having you. We do an event every year in San Diego called Best Year Ever Blueprint and, dude, I think if we have room for another speaker this year, I would love to have you, man, so we have to chat about that offer off-tape.
Nick: Absolutely, man, but thank you. I appreciate that. I’m just grateful to be here.
Hal: Nick, as we wrap up here, where’s the best place for people to connect with you, follow you, book you to speak, reach out to you? Where do they find you?
Nick: Yeah. So, my website is BookNickSanto.com and they…
Hal: Santo, S-A-N-T-O?
Nick: S-A-N-T-O. So, book…
Hal: That’s easier than the full last name.
Nick: Yeah. I had to cut it down. I’m there and then my Instagram is you can type in Nick Santo and I’m the guy with a really long last name and right now for the future I got a book coming out. I also got a book coming out in Chinese and then also we’re filming a virtual training program. It’s called CALM so basically Cultivating A Limitless Mindset and basically, it’s a virtual training program where people can log in and then I take them through, “What are your core values? Are your core values is serving you? What does make you tick? What makes you happy? What makes you fulfilled? How do you eliminate excuses? Limiting beliefs?” And basically, going on field like doing the things with them because I didn’t want people to think that I’m just in a studio telling you to do something. So, like real quick an example is for the no excuses or eliminating beliefs is I tell people like, “What are you feeling 25% into your goal?” And then I said, “Well, let’s see what Nick’s feeling,” and I go, and I was in Arizona and I climbed a 3-mile mountain for the first time in my life to show people like what am I feeling 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% into the goal, how do you feel at the end?
Hal: Oh wow.
Nick: Four hours to climb this mountain but I wanted to show people that I’m out here in the field doing it with them so that’s what people can have in store for me.
Hal: That’s really unique, man. So, BookNickSanto.com is where they can – kind of that’s the hub to find it all? What’s your book? Do you have a title for the book yet? Is that…
Nick: Right now, in the process of writing it so the main title hasn’t come to me yet but basically just going to go through my life and probably like 15 to 20 lessons and things that they can apply so you get a deeper connection with me and get the little like the nitty-gritty like the podcast stuff like this but in a book form.
Hal: Cool. And are you going to sell or traditionally publish that if you don’t mind me asking?
Nick: We’re going to sell and publish.
Hal: Talk to me. The reason I ask you is that’s my wheelhouse and I would love to help you, man, so text me today and let’s jump on a call and I’ll just tell you everything I know about that world and I’m going to help your message out there as much as I can.
Nick: Yeah. I appreciate that. I got your number and, yeah, I’ll text you and we’ll schedule a call so we can rekindle and talk about some things.
Hal: Cool. You are living your highest purpose, man. I’m proud of you. It’s an honor to know you. And we didn’t know each other 45 minutes ago and I’m a huge fan and a friend so thanks for being on the show, brother.
Nick: Likewise. I’m grateful. Thank you so much.
Hal: Ditto, man. All right, goal achievers, thank you for tuning in to another episode of The Achieve Your Goals Podcast. Check out Nick’s website, BookNickSanto.com for all things Nick and yeah, man, I’m going to go, I’m about to call you on every social media. I’m inspired as well, dude, so I appreciate you and goal achievers, I appreciate you. Catch you next week. Love you, everybody. Take care.
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