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Star Power: Robb Nash on 'the Wonderful Opportunity of Dying'

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Star Power: A six-pack of questions for celebs making a difference. Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of Free The Children and Me to We, check in with some of their favourite actors, singers and activists to find out how they are changing the world.

Robb Nash was hit by a semi-trailer truck the winter he was seventeen. The head-on collision stripped the roof off of the car he was riding in and knocked him onto the highway, where he cracked his skull. He was pronounced dead.

In hospital, his vitals returned but he remained unconscious until spring. At that point, Nash awoke, disoriented, with a patchwork of surgical steel bolts in his broken skull, no memory of the accident and seething anger at his newfound helplessness.

Now, 16 years later, Nash calls it "the wonderful opportunity of dying." And he offers this advice: "Don't wait to get hit by a semi" to start living with purpose. Nash found that his purpose was to help kids find theirs, so he founded the band Live On Arrival to reach troubled youth, through songs and presentations in schools and youth detention centres.

Nash says things like "literally miraculous" and punctuates his speech with rhetorical exclamations of "what?!" to underscore the absurdity of his experience: "It's literally miraculous. Did you see our tour bus pull in? A 75-year-old couple saw [our presentation] and said we want to buy you a present so you guys can keep going. What?! They bought it for us."

We spoke to Nash recently in his hometown of Winnipeg; he told us that what doesn't kill you does not make you stronger. You'll see what he means.

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We're all about living me to we: making choices that positively impact the world, instead of just ourselves. Describe the moment you decided you wanted to give back.

I was hit by a semi truck and killed. Came out of my coma with no memory and I was bitter for almost two years until I realized I needed to do something. I think we've all been given that prompting at some point in our lives. My first impulse was to call the semi driver that hit me.

It took a long time but I found this guy's number. I found out that guy had not driven a vehicle since that day, not seen a psychologist. We talked for two hours and the guy was set free. I hung up the phone and realized that I had never done anything for anyone in my entire life because I had a feeling when I hung up that I never had before. I realized we all have that feeling to do something significant for someone else. From that day on I wanted more and more and more, and I wanted young people to feel that too.

If you could have a socially conscious superpower and change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Equality. It blows my mind that the struggles have to be so significantly different from where I sit right now to where someone is a few hours away -- hell, a few minutes away. The school we were at this morning . . . the amount of homeless kids that were brought in. Talking to kids with burns on their feet from [extreme cold exposure] last winter, not having shelter. How does that happen? How does that happen?

On any given day, we know that girls' education, world hunger and global warming are some of the social issues facing our world. What's the biggest issue to you?

Without question, suicide. For the last three years, [my band has] been doing presentations in prisons, youth detention centres and in schools. [We've] written a song about addiction with [input from] addicts. A song about suicide with [input from] people who have attempted suicide. They always say the same thing: I feel insignificant.

However I am well aware of the strength of what you [Free The Children] are doing, with helping youth find purpose. You're trying to get people to follow their hearts [by pursuing social issues they feel passionately about]. For some that's a village in Africa, for some that's something in their own school. It's so important to have purpose.

They feel insignificant. But it's the opposite. [Instinctively], they know they're significant [...]. They're going 'there's gotta be something more,' and [if they don't find it]--gone.

If people from the future were talking about you, what would you want them to say? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

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I was terrified, and I didn't fall asleep for a year because every night I had the same nightmare. The nightmare was that I was at my own funeral. And nobody showed up. Nobody cared if I lived or died.

And I just vowed that I was going to do something different this time.

I also had the wonderful opportunity of dying and to see what everyone else will see -- there's a lot more to this world than what we see here. I'm not here for me. You're not here for you. I don't think I'm the next Bono, but I think one of the kids I'm going to talk to will be, and I get to be a small part of that.

We work with so many young people. Looking back, what advice would you give your high-school self?

Don't wait to get hit by a semi truck. I was 17. I went from being the captain of every sports team to not being able to bathe myself. Some people think you have to hit rock bottom, that you have to hit a tragedy to learn. I would stop this tour right now if I thought that were the case.

I just did a radio interview for [a local radio station] and [the on-air host] goes [mimics radio host voice], "It's good that you got hit by that semi, eh Rob?" No, it isn't. "Well you'd go back and do it again, wouldn't you?" No, I would not. It did not make me a better person. What doesn't kill you does not make you stronger. You have to make the choice. But, if you're willing to make that choice, you have the strength to get through anything in your life.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com

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