Rock bottom to world champion

Mary Graham, Tom Carroll and Sam Bloom surfing at Palm Beach. Picture: CAMERON BLOOM.

Sam Bloom, three-time world para-surfing champion, best-selling author, movie muse and nurse last month shared her inspiring journey of resilience at Beef2024 in Rockhampton.

And, what an incredible story it is.

In 2013, at the age of 41, Sam’s dream life became a nightmare.

While holidaying in Thailand with husband Cameron and their three young boys, she leaned against a rotten balcony railing, falling through and crashing six metres onto concrete.

The accident left her paralysed from the chest down.

Broken and completely devastated, Sam felt her life was over as the intense physical and mental hardship consumed her.

However, with courage, determination and the love of her family, she fought her way back to reclaim purpose and pride.

“By sharing my journey of healing and adapting to a life-changing injury, I hope to have encouraged the women at the Westpac High Tea that they too can find strength when they need it most,“ Sam said.

“I talked a lot about resilience and some key messages such as ‘it’s ok to not feel ok all the time. Like, just be kind to yourself’. I think it’s important to show gratitude as well.

“So, while I will never be ok with (my situation) really never ever – I hate it so much and would do anything to be me again – I am still grateful to be alive.”

Sam spent three months in hospital then battled her way through three more months of intensive rehabilitation before she was finally able to return to her home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, only to fall into a deep and consuming depression.

The story of those dark years has been told in Sam’s book, Sam Bloom Heartache & Birdsong and in the film and book, Penguin Bloom.

One day she suggested to her recreation officer from rehab that she could perhaps try canoeing.

And so the revival of Sam Bloom began. No longer stuck in her wheelchair, she was out on the lake surrounded by nature and free from her personal prison.

Sam eventually won two Australian titles before representing her country at the 2015 World Championships in Italy.

“Sport has helped me so much,” she said. “It’s where I get my self-belief. When I got onto the Australian kayaking team it felt like, ’ok, I actually can do something now. I can achieve cool things but just have to work harder’.

“It boosted my confidence and made me feel a little bit like my old self again.”

In 2016 – completely out of the blue – Sam received a letter from the mother of Australian professional surfer Julian Wilson.

In it, Nola Wilson gently encouraged her to reconnect with her love of the ocean and return to surfing.

“It was a super random act of kindness and so beautiful and I thought, ‘ok, I’ll give it a go’. It completely changed everything for me.”

In 2018, Sam was selected as a member of the Australian adaptive surf team and has since clinched gold for Australia at the 2018, 2020 and 2023 World Para-Surfing Championships.

Just last month she won the Hawaiian Adaptive Surf Championships.

“Obviously winning is great, but I think the most fun thing about being a para-athlete is the amazing community,” she said.

“That, to me, is the highlight of competitions. I’ve always loved travelling so It’s beautiful seeing everyone from all over the world come together, from Costa Rica, Brazil, America, France – everywhere. It’s just the best.

“All the competitors have their own story of loss and hardships and everyone kind of gets it.

“Even though we all have different injuries or impairments, it’s just nice because you feel normal, you’re not the only one in the wheelchair, you’re not the only one who needs help.“

Ultimately, Sam has found her way forward through surfing, nature, her family and her own unexpected resilience.

“If you experience what I have, you need hope to find something that you love doing, whether it be a sport, art or something you care about.

“Creating purpose will eventually lead you to happiness.

“Whenever I share my story I tell people, ’you’re never too old or too damaged to do the things that matter most. If you’re alive, your dreams are alive’.“

While it is a far different happiness to the carefree existence before her accident, for Sam now, the moments of joy are more profound, more resonant and she still has so much living to do.

* To find out more about Sam Bloom, visit her website or follow her on Instagram: @samjbloom.