Nick Santonastasso doesn't know limits.
He's an entrepreneur, bodybuilder, model and Internet sensation. The 22-year-old is also an inspirational speaker who has taken the stage at the Tony Robbins Foundation's 19th annual Global Youth Leadership Summit and met the self-made millionaire himself. Today, he'll take the stage at the Pendulum Summit alongside thought leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Steve Forbes and Suzy Welch.
Such a career would be difficult to build for anyone but offers special challenges for Santonastasso. He was born with Hanhart syndrome, a rare condition that prevented his limbs from fully growing. He was born with one arm and no legs. This condition hasn't kept Santonastasso from living life to the fullest. He says he owes his success to this simple motto that helped him overcome failure and doubt: "It's not can't, it's how."
"Most people start with 'can't.' Instead, look at the situation, take a deep breath and say, 'Okay, how am I going to conquer this? How am I going to break through this barrier?" Santonastasso tells CNBC Make It.
Growing up, Santonastasso's parents wanted him to be as independent as possible. They would set either his clothes or food in front of him and tell him to "figure it out."
"My parents sat me down and said 'Nick, the world's not going to stop for you because you're born like this. Mom and dad are not going to be here forever, you're going to have to figure out how to do each and everything your way,'" he recalls.
Accepting life's challenges helped Santonastasso build resilience and acquire a taste for adventure. His love for sports kicked off with skateboarding as a kid, where he started riding on his belly and eventually learned how to do handstands down inclines.
Santonastasso has felt his share of real low points, including one between middle school and high school. "I was depressed and I was so uncomfortable in my skin," he says. "I didn't want to live in this body anymore."
It was then Santonastasso says he realized, "I need to do something, I need to be part of a team or extracurricular activity. I need to be a part of something that is going to elevate me."
He pushed himself to do more, joining his brother and friends in wrestling during sophomore year. Playing safely meant making the difficult decision to have several inches taken off one partially developed arm. By senior year, his work paid off. He made his high school's varsity team.
"In senior year, I realized I was put on this earth like this to be an example, to show people what they are truly capable of," Santonastasso says.
Around the same time, Santonastasso started growing an online following for his viral pranks on the now-defunct social media video site Vine. By making light of his situation and being able to laugh at himself, the young man catapulted himself into internet fame. Compilations of his Vine videos now have hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and he has amassed nearly a half-million followers on Instagram.
He counts his own idols among his fans, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The two found themselves training at the City Athletic Club gym in Las Vegas last year. And while fans scrambled to talk to Johnson, The Rock asked to meet Santonastasso and later posted a photo of the two of them together on his Instagram feed.
"[Santonastasso] was born with one arm and no legs. In his mind, there's nothing he can't do... and he's right. He's right because he does everything he sets his mind to," Johnson said. "Keep crushing life my man and inspiring all those around you. And thank you for helping frame my perspective on life just a little bit more."
In the past few years, Santonastasso realized he wants his legacy to be more than his online comedy. That's why he has turned to bodybuilding, modeling and is working on an upcoming book, "Victim to Victor."
"I just want people to look at the world differently," Santonastasso says. "I could sit here in this chair and moan and complain about being born with no legs and one arm. Or I could go do something about it. I could go make something of it."
"The only limits you have are the ones you put on yourself."
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