TONY Christiansen is known globally as a leading inspirational speaker who overcame what would seem to many people as insurmountable odds to become who he is today – a successful businessman, best selling author, qualified lifeguard and Olympic Gold Medallist in shot put, discus and javelin.
He has achieved all that, and more, even though he lost both his legs in a horrific railway accident when he was just nine years old.
The 50-year-old New Zealander is also a second degree black belt in taekwondo, a race car champion (world’s fastest amputee), a qualified pilot, scuba diver, and to add to all that, he has also scaled Africa’s highest mountain and seventh highest peak in the world – Mt Kilimanjaro.
All those achievements, however, are secondary to what Tony considers his real job – inspiring people.
On Saturday, Tony spoke to nearly 500 youths at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), including R.AGE readers.
Many were moved to tears by Tony’s stories from his life, told with wit and humour, accompanied by a few videos showing him engaging in his much-loved activities.
Tony learned to take responsibility for his own life soon after the accident.
“After seven months of intensive care my parents brought me home, and left me alone. I asked my mother where everyone was and she told me life goes on,” said Tony.
It was at that point that he realised he wouldn’t let his fate get the best of him, and soon after, friends of his parents started giving him swimming lessons. Years later he became a certified lifeguard.
At age 17, Tony finally got a job as a sign painter, after struggling to find work.
“Nobody wanted to employ me because I had no legs but I wouldn’t stop trying and finally one employer gave me the job. Eventually I came to own the company and now it’s a multi-million dollar business,” said the father of two girls and a son.
That morning, Tony spoke about his Olympics achievements, how he became a pilot, his humorous race-car incidents, but probably the most inspiring of all was his story of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.
In 2002, a South Korean film crew brought Tony, a blind Korean lady named Soo Yong and a Korean man called Hong Bin who had lost both his hands to the mountain, to film a documentary.
The journey was tough, as evidenced in the short video footage Tony showed the audience, but on Christmas Eve in 2002, Tony reached the summit of 5,895m, braving the subzero temperature and the sharp rocks that he had to drag himself over.
When members of the audience asked him how he kept going through all the challenges life threw at him, Tony said he refused to feel sorry for himself.
“The reality of life is we will all die one day. I’m 50 years old, I have many things I want to do in life, and I don’t have time for disappointments or regrets,” he said.
Thousands of people have written to him since he started telling his story 12 years ago. According to Tony, those letters drive him to keep telling his story and inspiring people.
“I’ve heard news that my books are making the rounds in American primary schools, and kids write to me with a lot of questions about my life,” said Tony.
Clearly, his story has reached out to people in many corners of the world, and Malaysia is no exception, proven by the throngs of people trying to get a picture with him and an autograph after the talk.
To find out more about Tony, visit tonychristiansen.com.