Nick Pulgine could be a poster child for Wheaton College. A twenty-year-old sophomore from Naperville, Ill., Nick is involved in Young Life, passionate about people and music, and a member of the swim team. The well-dressed, eloquent communications major definitely seems to have it all together; but that wasn’t always the case.
Nick’s interest in people stems from a time when he longed for that same love and acceptance in his own life. Identity struggles plagued his sophomore and junior years of high school. Sophomore year, a swimming injury prevented him from participating in the sport that he had been a part of since the age of eight, and the six-month recovery was a long and difficult one. It put a stop to his dream of swimming for a Big Ten school and also began a culmination of other struggles in his life.
Kids in high school can be cruel. There is often no room for someone who does not perfectly fit the mold of how society wants them to think and act. Nick’s high school was no different, and he soon faced people who questioned his identity and labeled him as something he was not.
It would have been easy to give in and accept the things people said about him. Nick even admitted, “I had a hard time not believing those things.” Understandably, he struggled through sophomore and junior year with all the negativity from his peers. “I hit a very, very low point, just of very little self-worth.”
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Only when he was stuck between the loss of his identity as a swimmer and the false identity he received from classmates did Nick come to realize the true and incredible identity that God had extended to him. Despite growing up in a Christian home, he did not really make his faith his own until his junior year of high school. In one of his greatest moments of discouragement, he cried out to God, “You can take this, because I can’t do anything anymore.”
God answered that cry, as He always does, and began to move Nick’s life in a new direction. No longer was he defined by what other people said, but by what Christ had done for Him. Looking back on one of the toughest seasons of his life, he admits that it was difficult.
“I hated it when I went through it, but I look back and I am so thankful for it.”
What he went through then became something that he can share with others and use to encourage those who are facing similar struggles. His senior year in high school, he gave a very transparent and emotional telling of his testimony to his Young Life group, which moved many of his classmates and also gave him closure for the things that had happened over the past several years. He now loves to share his story with other people and make them feel loved, because he knows first hand how valuable that acceptance can be in someone’s life. If he met someone who was struggling with the same types of things he did, his advice would be: “Don’t be afraid to find people that want to help you, and don’t be so prideful to think that you can do it on your own.” God puts people in your life for a reason, but you need to seek them out.
With a changed heart, Nick began his search for where he would spend the next four years of his education. Throughout high school, he spent a few hours every day on the Wheaton campus because his swim team used the Wheaton pool for practice. Despite how familiar he was with the campus, Wheaton was not at the top of his list of college choices. He wanted to branch out, so he applied and went so far as to send in his deposit to Miami of Ohio before God once again changed his heart.
The same sport that brought Nick to Wheaton in high school helped to draw him back in college. Through talking to and being recruited by the swim coach, among other things, he realized that God was really pulling him to stay closer to home than he had envisioned.
Enrolling at Wheaton his freshman year turned out to be one of the greatest decisions of his life yet. Through relationships his formed on the swim team and just around campus, Nick was blown away by the students’ transparency and desire to encourage him spiritually. Even though he isn’t far from home, he said that he could see how much he grew during that first year of college. Even his friends noticed how much his maturity and confidence skyrocketed during those months. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness, Nick says, “It wasn’t an overfilled joy, just this great contentment with what God was doing with my life.”
By the salt of tears and the chlorine of pools, Nick finally found fulfillment in the living water, and he hasn’t looked back since. As he continues his education at Wheaton and then pursues his dreams attending graduate school, writing for The Rolling Stone, or working at The Today Show, Nick will always treasure the lessons he learned when God took control of his life and showed him his identity as a son of God.