Noel Kunz's life-altering moment came at the impressionable age of 14. At this crucial intersection of youth when adolescence meets high school, a simple toy on a string tied to a finger defined Noel forever.
"I was a freshman in high school; the most un-cool time to start something like yo-yoing," said Noel, who is now 24 and a college graduate.
As Noel demonstrated a dizzying array of yo-yo tricks, he recalled being teased and taunted at school because of his hobby.
"Other kids would make fun of me at lunch. I was sort of in the bottom of the social ladder of high school," he said.
Noel tuned out the harassment and continued to master the yo-yo. Then he had a sort of "turn the tables" moment with a much bigger and brawny football player in the school lunch room.
"He came at me and said anybody can do that!" Noel said. The kid swiped the yo-yo from Noel, strung it up on his finger and flung it forward. Then it shot back and clunked the kid in the forehead.
"All the other kids around us started laughing at HIM," Noel said with emphatic satisfaction. From then on Noel got respect. "I got better and better with yo-yoing and I was determined not to let them get to me. I wasn't going to let them win," Noel said.
It turns out Noel is really hard to beat. He's an avid competitor on the world stage of yo-yoing. Noel was a medal winning finalist in the recent 2012 World Yo-Yo Championship, which had more than 300 contestants from 28 countries.
"In 10 years, I've earned three medals," Noel said. But he's not done yet exploring all the yo-yo has to offer. "They're definitely toys but they're toys we bring to the extreme."
He now blends choreographed yo-yo tricks and dance steps to a hip hop beat. The combo is apparently a hit at college campuses and the club scene. Now Noel gets good paying gigs everywhere.
Yet he never forgets those early days of high school where he often returns to perform and deliver a message:
"You can be different and do something different despite what people think and say. I went through the same battles and won."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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