POSTED: October 2015
Franklin County Technical School seniors sat rapt as Nicholas Z. Tokman of the Discovery documentary series “Deadliest Catch”
regaled them recently with stories of his exploits as a crab fisherman in Alaska.
But, Tokman, 27, sought to do much more than to just entertain his audience. He also wanted to inspire them to seek their goals in life no matter the odds. A West Springfield native, Tokman described his determination to become a crab fisherman despite resistance from family, hardship, unemployment, and homelessness.
The effort eventually paid off, leading to his “dream job” as a crew member on a “Deadliest Catch” crab fishing boat. Tokman’s message to the students was to always strive for what they want in life despite setbacks. He said he knows many people who didn’t pursue their dreams and therefore did not live up to their potential.
“I want you to follow your heart, listen to it and push through whatever obstacles you may face,” Tokman said. “Don’t believe anyone that tries to bring you down. In turn, I believe you will be happy. If you don’t, the world will be deprived of the gifts you can offer.”
A fan of “Deadliest Catch,” Samantha Scopa, 17, of Greenfield, said seniors especially needed to hear Tokman’s message of perseverance and striving to realize their dreams. She said seniors “want to have an idea of where you want to go after high school.”
“It makes me believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” she said. “I didn’t believe it until I heard what he went through.”
Scopa, who is in the FCTS Plumbing and Heating program, said she hopes to go to college to become a registered nurse. Besides establishing a nursing career, she hopes to one day buy land and build her own post and beam house.
Nate Breen, 17, of Erving, said “most people don’t get to where they want to go after high school.” His goals are to join the U.S. Army and then go to Westfield State University for law enforcement.
“He pushed me more into what I want to do,” Breen said of Tokman’s talk. “He never gave up when everything got hard. I want to make it to my goals. It’s very important to me to show everyone I can do it.”
During the hour-long presentation at FCTS, Tokman described his journey from West Springfield, to college in Canada to deciding to quit school to become a fisherman in Alaska. He was enrolled at Concordia College in Montreal and “was down and out and wondering what I was doing” before making the decision to go to Alaska.
At the time, Tokman was also holding down three part-time jobs – selling suits, working as a night janitor and delivering pizza. Between school and work, he was burnt out and questioning why he was doing what he was doing. This personal crisis led him to leave college and head to Alaska despite the vehement objections of his family.
“I decided that I couldn’t live for my family; ultimately, I have to do what I want to do,” Tokman said. “This was my life and I have to make my own decisions. If I didn’t do it, 20 years down the road I’d regret it and be questioning myself, so I wouldn’t be living, I’d merely be existing.”
Once he got to Alaska, Tokman found landing a job was much tougher than he thought it would be. He walked the fishing boat docks day after day looking for work, to no avail. He ended up broke and had to sell a gold necklace his mother gave him. He slept at “random people’s houses,” camped in the woods and stayed at a homeless shelter.
Even when he did find work on a fishing boat, it didn’t last. There were instances when Tokman wasn’t paid for the work he did do.
“Every single day he walked up and down the boardwalk asking if anyone had a job,” Scopa said. “He never gave up. He heard 150 times a day “no.” I want to make “no” a motivational word for me. If people tell me “no” it makes me want to do it more to prove them wrong.”
Although he now touts the power of persistence, there were times when Tokman felt like giving up. But, he always overcame the urge, even when he hit rock bottom.
“I realized that it cannot get any worse than this,” Tokman said. “It cannot and right now I am living and breathing. But, if it cannot get any worse than this, then it can only get better.”
Through it all, Tokman was inspired by the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and he gave a copy to Morgan Plante, 17, of Orange in the hopes that she would find inspiration in it and pass it along to someone else.
Plante took Tokman’s presentation to heart and days later enlisted in the National Guard, a goal she had set for herself.
“I learned not to let people stop you from reaching your goals,” she said. “I was on the fence about joining the National Guard. He made me want to do it and I enlisted. If he didn’t come to the school, I don’t think I would have signed up for the National Guard. I would have given up on my dream.”
Tokman eventually met Sig Hansen, captain of the crab fishing boat Northwestern, which is featured on “Deadliest Catch.” Hansen took a liking to Tokman and offered him a job, giving his story a happy ending.
Following the talk, Tokman said he hoped his message resonated with the students. He has plans to become a fulltime public speaker one day.
“I love public speaking, especially to young people,” he said. “I turned down a six figure job to do this. This is my calling.”