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Wade Jewkes, Deseret News
Australian LDS guitarist Lorin Nicholson, right, with his father, John Nicholson.

MIDVALE, Utah — The first time Lorin Nicholson read the Book of Mormon, it took him seven years to get through it.

That's because Nicholson, a Mormon guitarist and motivational speaker from Australia, had to use a magnifying glass to read the book one word at a time.

Nicholson, born with retinitis pigmentosa and who is legally blind, told his story and played his music for a single adult fireside in Midvale on Nov. 8.

"I don't know if I am one of the best guitar players in Australia, but I am one of the most famous," he said, chuckling.

Nicholson, 40, said he is just beginning to travel the United States with his program that has played to standing ovations in his native country and garnered two TV appearances on "Carols by Candlelight," a Christmas Eve program sponsored by Vision Australia.

During his U.S. tour, he gave 18 presentations in six days before his fireside program, where he talked about his disability and his LDS mission experiences.

When Nicholson was 4 years old, he was diagnosed by doctors as having only 10 percent of his eyesight. (He says it has degenerated to about 5 percent now.)

He said his mother walked out of the doctor's office that day thinking she was a total failure. His brother, one year younger, is affected with the same condition.

His father, John, took a different approach by reacting positively and involving young Lorin in sports, bicycle riding and other activities. It was at a family home evening when Nicholson was 7 that his father announced it was time for him to read the Book of Mormon. Thus began his seven-year reading project.

When Nicholson was 8, his father asked him to accompany him to the shed out back and said, "Son, I want you to mow the lawn."

He said he was excited. "It was a riding mower and I did figure 8s in the lawn."

At 19, Nicholson was called to serve in the Australia Melbourne Mission and was able to complete an honorable mission. He said he tracted and taught as other missionaries did, but "I didn't ride a bike very often," he quipped.

He went on to graduate from college and practiced massage therapy and sports medicine for 12 years. He worked with Australian Olympic medal winners and overall treated about 30,000 people.

Along the way, he met his wife, Lisa, whom he called beautiful. "I got really close and had a look," he explained.

He told the audience that it was very difficult for him to meet girls at dances until he discovered that the best way to do it was just to bump into them. "Then," he said, "I would ask them on a blind date."

Nicholson's life took a turn about six years ago when his father-in-law invited him to speak at a school where he was a principal.

His subject was anti-bullying and went over so successfully that he decided to develop a motivational program that he could pursue full time.

Nicholson had experience with bullies because of his condition, and he picked up the guitar at age 13 and learned all the rock songs that all teenagers liked in the 1980s. He said he was also influenced by classical and folk music.

"I learned all different styles of guitar," he said, "and I wrapped that all together and have become an acoustic guitar virtuoso."

His most requested song is the theme from "The Man From Snowy River."

It didn't hurt that Nicholson grew up in Tamworth, the Australian equivalent of Nashville. "It is the country music capital of Australia. It lies about halfway between Brisbane and Sydney."

Nicholson hails from strong LDS stock. His mother is a fifth-generation Mormon, and his father, although he wasn't baptized until he was 19, was called as the first missionary from Australia to serve a foreign mission. John Nicholson served in the United States in the Northwest Mission 1961-63. Since then, he has served twice as a bishop and in a stake presidency. He accompanies his son wherever he goes and serves as his driver.

Before Lorin Nicholson started traveling on the road, he served for more than seven years as a branch president and as a counselor in a bishopric.

Today, Nicholson is ward mission leader in his Holland Park Ward, Brisbane Stake.

Nicholson and his wife, Lisa, have four healthy children: Andrew, 15, who is a drama student; Emmylin, 14, who excels as an artist and carries straight-A grades; Harriet 12, who plays violin; and Tom, 10.

He usually does not mention Mormonism in his presentations, although in some corporate seminars he sometimes tells about his mission experiences.

But Nicholson said, "It is a strong values message. It earns enormous respect and (portrays me) as a strong Christian providing Christian values.

"If I weren't born blind, life would have been easy. I was good at sports and music. … Life would have been easy. The miracles that have happened in my life have come after challenges have occurred. After adversity.

"If we didn't have trials, when could we see his hand in our lives?"

In April 2010, Nicholson said and his brother, Dean, plan to be the first blind persons to ride a push bike nearly 3,000 miles across Australia.

"We have major corporate sponsors," Nicholson said, "We are trying to inspire a nation."

e-mail: wjewkes@desnews.com