By Stephanie Brault
WESTFIELD Joe Wojcik is a big guy. He stands over six feet tall and weighs well over 200 pounds. He isn't a man one would want to mess with at first sight, especially because he has a black belt in martial arts.
Life, however, wasn't always that easy for Wojcik.
As an overweight child, Wojcik made an easy target for the typical schoolyard bullies. They tortured him about his weight by calling him "Yubbie," a cruel nickname. As he advanced through grade school, the bullying only got worse.
"I was quite young, as most kids are, because it started in second or third grade, then around fourth and fifth grade it heightens," Wojcik explained. "Even in my high school years I was picked on, not in the same way but with things like practical jokes. Eventually I got to be a big guy, so no one really wanted to mess with me."
Today, Wojcik is a successful business owner he owns Apex Performance Solutions as well as a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sport Medicine and is a lifestyle and weight management consultant for the American Council on Exercise. He is also an author, songwriter and motivational speaker who delivers messages of hope and possibility. He will be giving his presentation, "Say NO to Bullying Today," to the fifth graders at Juniper Park Elementary School on the campus of Westfield State College on June 2 at 2 p.m.
When asked about bullying today versus bullying when he was a child, Wojcik answered, "Other than cyber bullying, I don't think it changed at all. I think kids can be mean, and what amazes me is sometimes they didn't even realize how I was reacting to what they were doing."
He explained that children don't bully other children in the hopes of truly hurting them, but they don't realize the long-term effects bullying has.
"Talking to the kids today that I've talked to, and their parents, it's the same thing today as back then. Heavy kids and gay and lesbian kids are the most sought out by bullies," he said.
"The problem isn't the bullying," Wojcik continued, "it's the fact that when people are impacted by bullying in their early years, the statistics say that those individuals manifest low self-esteem and self-confidence. It brings upon depression and substance abuse, it's what happens to the individuals as they become adults." Wojcik also said that someone who is a bully in his or her youth is about 40 percent more likely to later have a criminal offense.
A serious car accident in his early 30s led Wojcik to his life-changing epiphany. "I had to go inside myself and discover who I was, what was there," he said of the event.
"I was very fortunate with my wife, who was very supportive. She hung in there with me. The people at the Providence Pain Clinic were also very instrumental in helping me understand that in order for me to actually physically heal, I had to look at very different aspects of my life. Meditation was very important, and it still is I take time to meditate every day, to get inside myself. I had to heal; I had to look at anything and everything possible. Once they sent me out, I was on my own. I didn't have pain pills anymore or drinking, but I was still in a lot of physical pain." Wojcik said that he basically had to learn for himself how to live and how to heal.
As Wojcik went through his 17-year healing process, he needed more than just medicine to help him get better. "Part of my healing process was my belief system, and most importantly, I discovered that I was able to create a world around me just by the way I thought.
"After the accident, I had a foundation of new thought, and my relationship with everyone I meet to my relationship with nature becomes very deep. I have this new awareness and energy."
It is fair to say that after the enervating accident, Wojcik became a changed man. "We have the power to change our lives," he explained. "The progress of my healing wasn't just physical, but it was actually stimulated by the time I spent getting in my head and heart."
Wojcik said he really wants to let people know that they are in control of their world. He added that belief is extremely important, and that it was a key aspect in his healing process.
His movement IMYUBBIE as well as his newly published book, "Yubbie: The Fall and Rise of an Everyday Joe," is intended to teach children, teenagers and adults about not only the short-term, but also the long-term effects of bullying. The presentation Wojcik plans to give to the fifth graders at Juniper Park School focuses on teaching children who are victims of bullying to stand up for themselves.
Wojcik now uses the name "Yubbie" as an acronym: "Y" is for "not yielding"; "U" is for "use available resources"; "B" is for "be understanding"; "B" again is for "be aware"; "I" is for "intervene"; and "E" is for "express that special talent." Using this acronym, along with a story to go along with each part, Wojcik will teach the children how they should handle bullying without using violence or cruelty themselves.
He greatly encourages children to tell an adult about being victim to bullying. Wojcik said one of the biggest problems is children are afraid to tell someone and get help. He also hopes to help those who do the bullying to understand how much it hurts, and how the pain is permanent.
When describing how he relates to children he said, "I tell them the truth. I want to engage them. I give them a scenario and ask them a question about how they'd react to it. Then I tell them what they should do. I get down to their level."
Wojcik said his primary intention is to get them excited about the idea, in order to explain things and have them listen and understand.
"I want to have a good time with these kids. I'm just not some cold fish getting up there and telling you facts. I'm going to get you involved, that's my goal," he added.
Wojcik said in addition to his visuals and scenarios, music is a powerful tool in his presentation. He even wrote a song that encompasses and goes along with the topic of his presentation called, "Say NO to Bullying Today."
"It's being a role model to the kids. 'Yubbie' is like a superhero to kids now," Wojcik explained.
"I'm a big guy. People think I'm a powerful man and I'm not sensitive at all, but one time I was talking to [my wife] about this event that happened in my childhood, and I started tearing up. I'm 57-years-old and have a black belt, and people think that I'm this big tough guy, and here I am, crying," Wojcik admitted.
"I really want to convey the fact that the impact of bullying has not worked out of my heart. The scars are permanent; they can be detrimental to a person's health and future. I want people to know that my tough exterior has nothing to do with my sensitive interior. We're all gentle inside, and we have to take care of ourselves."
To learn more about Wojcik's program and the availability of his book, visit his Web site at www.IMYUBBIE.com.
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