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‘He’s ready for the world’


Nik Ursiny is in charge of his own future, the thoughtful young man explained as he reflected on how far he’s come to graduation. He’s not letting debilitating illnesses determine his fate.

“I didn’t want to let my issues define my story,” he said of his multiple physical and mental challenges. “I didn’t want them to conquer me. I wanted to be able to show that even though I had all these (conditions) I could still be like everyone else and finish high school. I will be able to graduate with everyone else and move on and have a normal job. It’s essentially just a goal to be normal.”

Nik was in a wheelchair when he started high school

Nik spent years in a wheelchair. He has osteochondritis dissecans, which causes cracks in cartilage and bone, for which he’s had several surgeries. He also has a mitochondrial disease, which affects organ systems. On top of that, he has obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, asthma and narcolepsy.

His four older brothers were all diagnosed as children with the same inherited mitochondrial disease, and some have more difficulties than others. “Our bodies didn’t have the energy to perform properly. We were in the hospital a lot and missing a lot of school,” Nik said, adding that all the brothers, including himself, dreamed of joining the Marines.

Though he fell behind in school due to absences, working with Byron Center occupational therapist Janet Brown and a successful bone graft to his knee helped Nik manage his conditions. He now walks well, has learned to control facial tics, which included excessive blinking, and has mental strategies for dealing with OCD. Now barely noticeable, Nik said Tourette’s once made him be “that weird kid making noises in the back of the classroom.”

He gives a lot of credit to his mother, Laura Ursiny. “She puts us ahead of herself. It’s been a journey for all of us. She’s a very special lady and she deserves a lot of credit. She puts up with all five boys.”

Nik Ursiny has overcome physical and mental challenges to get to graduation

‘His Decision to Just Do It’

Nik will graduate May 23 from Byron Center High School. He hopes to attend the Grand Rapids Community College Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Program and pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Prior to starting college in the fall, he will get paid to work through the program, which partners with AutoCam, a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer.

Nik’s interest in engineering developed in the Kent Career Tech Center’s mechatronics and precision machining programs, and through the high school FIRST Robotics team, Code Red Robotics, for which he competed at state championships last weekend.

Another highlight of high school for Nik was performing in musicals, he said. He had roles in “High School Musical,” “Shrek” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It was probably the best thing I ever did,” he said. “I love musicals. It was amazing for me. Without being able to do sports and physically exerting activities, I was able to do the create friendships and opened up a lot.”

Participating in robotics was a highlight for Nik

It also helped him get over fear of being in front of people.

“It helped me a lot with being able to talk with people and present myself. I was able to conquer a barrier of stage fright. It was a real conquering moment for me.”

English teacher Linda Baas, a mentor for Robotics, said Nik is a supportive, helpful member of the team.

“He always displays a serving and heart and eagerness to tackle a task,” Baas said. “Even this past season, as Nik and his family have faced many health challenges, Nik has contributed to the team in whatever way he could. Nik and the rest of the team have a strong bond, and it is awesome to see how he supports and encourages his team members.”

Mom Laura Ursiny said she saw a big change in her son last year when he decided to take control of his situation. “We saw his grades and attitude change. He became very confident and driven; he was getting things done and advocating for himself. I was impressed with his decision to just do it.”

She said she’s proud of her son’s compassion for others as well. “Even when he is hurting, I see him reach out and try to help other people,” she said.

Nik underwent several operations due to a bone disease

Added Brown, Nik’s former occupational therapist,  “Nik has always displayed a positive, can-do attitude. He’s one of the most caring and polite students I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”

When Byron Center High School counselor Wade Zeilenga first met Nik as  a freshman he was in a wheelchair.

“To think of that moment to now, when he’s walking and is much more on top of his game — he’s excelling — is a testimony to his grit and hard work,” Zeilenga said. “To see him overcome that … People are inspired by his hard work and dedication.”

Zeilinga said he’s impressed by Nik’s confidence and maturity.

“Nik’s ready for the world outside these doors.”

Performing in musicals helped Nik conquer his fears

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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