Luke Nelson can feel their pain.
Nelson is a 25-year-old man living in Balaton who has made a nice life for himself despite being told he probably would never be able to.
Because of a blood clot in his brain, he was born without one-third of his cerebellum. Doctors said his chances of survival were minimal. They were wrong. He was also told he would never have a chance at a normal life.
But "normal" means something different to everyone. Because of his brain injury, Nelson noticeably favors his right side, and his head bobs. But those physical anomalies are nothing compared to the social abuse he faced when he was younger. It didn't take long for Nelson to become a victim of bullying. He was an easy target, a bully's dream.
"When I got into high school in the ninth grade it really picked up," Nelson said. "Kids made fun of everything - bobbing my head, favoring my right side - all the way through my senior year. Even in college a little, too, from people who didn't know me."
It might be common to think that by the time kids hit college age they would have matured past the level of teasing and finger-pointing. Not so, Nelson says.
"I would see people walking by me, bobbing their head, but it was easier to take because by then I knew that bullies are just looking for a way out and to take somebody else down. I felt that they were making fun of me because of some issue they had. I knew by then that I was made this way and there was nothing I could do about it."
But before Nelson got to that place of acceptance, the place where he didn't need anyone to help him feel good about himself and he was able to let the stares and teasing roll off his back, he endured some pretty rough times.
He remembers crying so much that it almost became an after-school activity. And he remembers entertaining thoughts of getting rid of the pain by killing himself.
"If I didn't have my faith I probably would not be here right now talking to you," he said. "I know God made me this way for a reason. He just didn't make me to go out and get fed to the wolves."
Nelson, who works at Ralco Nutrition Inc., hopes his perseverance will pay off for other bullying victims. He wants to reach out to kids who are targets like he was so many years ago, especially today when bullying has spread through our schools and communities like a plague.
"When I hear about these stories it breaks my heart because I've been through all that," he said. "I remember going home and bawling to my parents and not knowing what to do. When I hear about these young boys and girls getting bullied, taking their own life, it just kills me because I could possibly help them since I've been through it. Maybe I can make a difference."
Nelson's not just talking the talk. He actually has reached out to help kids he has seen being bullied.
"If I see other kids being bullied I stand up for them," he said. "I've gone right up to someone and said, 'OK, c'mon guys. One, this is immature, and two, it's not cool "
Nelson graduated from Normandale Community College in 2009 with a degree in exercise science. He wants to eventually get into the fitness business, but also has more personal aspirations.
"Yes, I'm working, but I still feel there's something else I could be doing for people," he said. "I hear about bullying more and more by following the news, looking on the Internet, and all these stories have sparked a tremendous interest in helping; that's all I think about now. I just want to get my story out and help people."