The Van Dude

Who is this Van Dude?

Meet Nico. Nico is your neighborhood free-spirited and borderline crazy person born & raised in Connecticut. Growing up, he did quite literally all of the things: football, lacrosse, wrestling, track, skateboarding, rock climbing… you name it. If it took place outdoors and was even the least bit challenging (or slightly questionable), Nico was down to give it a shot.

 

Despite his love for the games, they presented new challenges in 2008 when Nico fractured his Tibia and Fibula playing football for his hometown All-Star Game. Needless to say, this dramatically changed his perspective of what his future would look like, and led him into a growing season of not only bones but also as a person.

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Taking a break from his life of sports with a broken leg, Nico realized football was not his number one priority and started to prepare for college. His first year was rough…After becoming over-involved with all that college had to offer him, he finished out the semester with a 2.0 GPA. He decided that was unacceptable, which pushed him to find his focus. He finished his second year with a 3.8 GPA while holding executive board positions in 3 organizations, working as a Resident Advisor, and working as an operations assistant in Residence Life.

Just before Nico started year three at Southern Connecticut State University, he did something that no one could have ever expected of him. He woke up, walked into a recruiter’s office, and enlisted in the United States Army. To this day, he would tell you he has no idea why he did it…but it’s a decision that truly changed him for the better, and that he’s lived out with zero regrets.

“Just about every good thing that I have accomplished in my life happened after a very thought out but abrupt decision. The military, Ranger Regiment, and this project all started with me jumping into it. If there is no backup plan or “way out”, then the only way to go is forward. Failure is not an option.”

The next year was mostly a blur for Nico. He was approved to take a double course load for his fall & spring semesters. He also took spring break, winter session, and summer courses. By mid-August, one week before shipping out to basic training, Nico graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree…an entire year early. If you ask him, though, the best part of it all is that he still didn’t have Friday classes.

Military life was no different for Nico. It moved fast, and he strived to be the best he could be. He graduated as the honor graduate from his Basic Training class and was afforded the opportunity to attend Airborne School and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP).

After the Completion of RASP, Nico immediately trained for and then received the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, spent three months in training, and was sent to Ranger School. He started Ranger School in September and Graduated in November as one of only 55 students to go straight through…That is out of 400 students who initially started in his class.

“I was mostly just luck really. My timing was great. I showed up and did pretty well with EIB and in most of the training exercises. When it was time to send the next guy to Ranger School there were only three of us, so it was a 33% shot I’d go.”

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Nico finished Ranger School and deployed a month later. Less than one year in the Army, and he had completed some major feats. The next 6 years were a pretty good balance of training, traveling, and deployments.

During those 6 years, Nico deployed 3 times to Afghanistan, trained in places such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Kentucky, and completed Pathfinder School, Jungle Expert School, Assault Climber Course, EMT-B, Basic Life Support – Instructor Course, Tactical Medicine and a few other fun qualifications. He was awarded 10 Army Achievement Medals, the Army Accommodation Medal, the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal and Afghan Campaign Medals- just to name a few.

After years of comfortable routine and foreseeable future, the tide shifted once again in Nico’s world. His years of training and combat would soon be coming to an end…his leg, broken 8 years earlier at his all-star football game, was broken once again! That, partnered with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) started the Medical Evaluation Board process for Nico. He had surgery on his leg again, this time removing the hardware put in 8 years earlier in hopes of a full recovery this time.

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During his recovery, Nico started pondering what his transition would look like this time. He joked about selling his car, buying a van, and living the nomad life. Well, we thought he was joking, or at least that it was just the Percocet talking.

A month later, still bedridden on crutches, Nico sold his 2017 VW GTI, created a website for FindingNicoVanProject, printed business cards, and told everyone his plans.

“Like everything else, a decision had to be made and I just dove in head first. I knew that if I set pretty lofty goals and told everyone I know about them, I would have no choice but to see it through. I also sold my brand new car, so there was that”

For the first 6 months, things continued to be tweaked & fine-tuned. He found a van, convinced some people to sponsor his efforts, and created most of what you see today. He did all this while still working full time for the Army and transitioning out. Right now, just as this is being written, he only has 13 days left in the Army.

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So, that pretty much brings us to today! Nico is continuing to work with nonprofits and working to create his own…All while living in a van, raising money, and sacrificing his desires for other people’s necessities. He does it all with a pure servant’s heart!

If there is anything we missed, or you want to know more, just ask Nico himself. He is an open book & loves sharing his story…We just know that, by getting to know him & his heart, new pieces of your own story will be written!

 

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