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  • Writer's picturePeta

Sam Bloom is just like you but the universe is determined to give her an extraordinary life

You probably know Sam. She has had a movie made about her life, starring Naomi Watts.

Post the movie, Sam continues to lead an extraordinary life.

A para-surfing champion, a mum, a wife and a woman that holds on to hope of her past self. How self acceptance is a lot more complicated than people think.

Connect with Sam:

Connect with Peta:

Instagram @petahooke



Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. I also love getting to talk to my guests. And this week is a cracker. If I do say so myself. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Sam [00:00:44] Yeah. Hi. Thanks, Peta. My name is Sam Bloom. I used to work as a registered nurse. I have three boys, and I've always had a passion for travelling. And so I went out when our boys were old enough. Well it's funny, you know, we initially wanted to take them to Ethiopia and so we were going to fly to Egypt and then down to Ethiopia because I have absolute love for Africa and unfortunately it was just too dangerous to take them to Egypt at the time. So we went to Thailand. And we were in Thailand for about four days and we're staying at this really nice hotel. And we went up on to this flat rooftop just to have a look at the view and drink our fruit juices or whatever it was. And I leaned on the railing and it had dry rot. And so I fell and fell six metres and broke my back.

Peta [00:01:37] I can't even imagine. I mean, yes, I have a disability, but I was born with my disability, so there's pretty much no trauma attached to my disability. And least for me, like I can't speak for my parents, but at least to me. So I'm always aware of when I get people on this podcast and I ask them about who they are. And I don't necessarily generally ask them directly about their disability because very often is so much trauma connected to people's disability. How do you feel when people ask you about your disability?

Sam [00:02:14] I don't mind talking about it. To be honest, I don't actually remember my accident anyway. If it was one of my kids would fall in. And that would be a completely different story because, I mean, I have struggled with it, but if it was one of the boys, I'd been absolutely devastated.

Peta [00:02:31] Yeah. And I think that's when it comes from when people ask me. For me, it's all about tone and the context of how they ask me. Like if there's pity behind the question when my back sort of gets up. And I think, Well, you're judging me and judging my life just based on the cover of the book.

Sam [00:02:51] Yes, that's so true. Actually, that's the one thing I can't stand either is the look of pity. You know, it's like, don't look at me like that.

Peta [00:02:59] And I think with kids, it's different because there's a natural curiosity with children. People don't know that disability is a negative thing in quotation marks until they're taught. So a lot of the times when you get really little, little kids like two or three, they just think, well, from my experience, I've always just thought, how cool and that I have wheels.

Sam [00:03:22] That's a cool way to look at it. Yeah. No, I agree. I love kids honesty. I remember one time I was at the skate park and she's always used to ride to school. That was actually really good at it. And so I was at the skatepark watching him, and this little kid came up to me, Guys, are you going down the vertical ramp or something? Like, you know, they really superstate ramble on and not today. I'm nothing too courageous. Like, he's so cute. You know, you see people go off and and pop up like, stamps and whatnot. I do not have the courage to do that. I'm, like, so paranoid that I'm going to fall out. Yes, I have courage in certain areas, but not that.

Peta [00:04:01] Yeah. Falling out is such an interesting experience. Like I've fallen at quite a lot, actually, particularly when I was little, because I'd have like people on the back of my wheelchair and I'd do tricks and all that sort of stuff. So I think by the time I was about ten, I'd phone in that like nine times. Having a disability. And I don't know what you think, but for me it certainly sort of pushed me out of my comfort zone. I'm certainly not a quiet person because I think when people view me, they have that intrinsic, instinctive viewpoint of what my life is. So I automatically go into like. Not attack mode, but I want to prove to people that I have a full life and I'm very happy. So in that way, it sort of made me feel this.

Sam [00:04:52] That's a good thing, though.

Peta [00:04:54] Yeah, but I like as I say, I'm not the one that has been in Hawaii, the ocean or any world championship. So. Can you tell the audience what you just achieved?

Sam [00:05:07] Yes, sure. I guess so. I guess I should go back in touch before my accident. I used to surf, so surfing was my thing. Surfing. Mountain biking were the things I love to do. And then after my accident, as far as I was concerned, I couldn't stand up anymore. Like paralysed from my chest down. And so it. It took me five years, actually, to get back out on the board in Hawaii. And obviously, there's always there's different classifications for the surfing, you know, same as swimming, same as everything to do, like a passport. And a couple of days before the competition, I got reclassified and they're like, you have strong arms. And yes, I know. And they let you actually now you're in a different category and you have no assistance in the water.

Peta [00:05:55] Oh, wow.

Sam [00:05:56] How does the site ove far out? Because I've spent five years in the water with ken, my husband, who pushes me on the waves. He gets me back out. I have tried to paddle on my own, but I actually find it really tricky because I've got no core and I've got like rods and screws in my back where I broke it at 96. And so I find it really hard to raise my chest off the board like like you do when you normally paddle, paddle with my head down. So yeah, I was pretty nervous and I couldn't sleep for the first couple of days. I kept thinking about it, think about it, like, come on, you know? And in my mind, I was like, You just have to catch a wave. She don't make a total fool of yourself. So what's the one thing that I've been desperate for since my accident and that has been to surf on my own? Like I say, I have nothing to lose. I was pretty proud of myself, but I was pretty vicious, I guess. Just chocolate. I won, like. And now it's kind of like a really good challenge because now I'm in that classification all the time.

Peta [00:07:03] From just your description, it sort of feels like the end of a movie again. We don't know. You've already had a movie made about your life, which is just phenomenal, which I will definitely ask you about, but you sort of sometimes pinch yourself and think, God, the universe is really guiding me to achieve and have an extraordinary life. Or do you think that's just in you and you instinctively want something a little bit out of the ordinary?

Sam [00:07:33] Oh, geez. Yeah. I've never thought of it like that. Since my accident. Yeah, I has done some pretty incredible things, you know, like the kayaking and going to Italy to race and, you know, and like you said, the movie and and the surfing and the books. But, you know, like, to be honest, I would give it all back in a heartbeat just to be boring. Or again, I really would.

Peta [00:07:59] I have to say with you saying that you'd swap in a heartbeat. I really admire your honesty because I think particularly in the disability community, there's a lot of I would never change this. This is part of me. And I flip flop myself. Some days I would definitely change it and be like, Yeah, I'd love to go for a run along the beach or whatever it is for researching this conversation that could really feel that in the struggle in you for existence.

Sam [00:08:31] Yeah. I just don't think I'll ever be able to be okay with this. You know, I just don't think I'll accept it. Yeah. So it's gone a little bit easier, but. Yeah. I'll never be okay with it and I'll never because I have heard like you said, I hey, I've had quite a few people say they'll never change. They'd never change it, you know, because they've been able to do some amazing things, which is great and good on them. But I'm just not like that. Maybe I'm super stubborn, you know? I changed my ways. I don't know. I just. I think I just miss it. I'll make. I miss my independence. Actually, I used to be super independent and I loved my own company. And, you know, I'd go on my mountain bike and go up to the national park and and ride along the fire trails and just sit in the bush. And I loved that. So I miss that. I miss that a lot. And I miss spontaneity. Actually, I now have to, like, plan everything. And you I can't just kind of jump up out of bed and do whatever. It's kind of like, Oh, no, hang on. I need X amount of time to get ready. And I don't know about you, but everything takes so long. They miss? Yeah. Spontaneity and control. Not of my life as such, but of my body.

Peta [00:09:49] Yes. Yeah. And I certainly have days where I'm just like, oh, my goodness. Life is really difficult. I'd love to be out of school with a lot of my girlfriends and just, you know, have a normal day. But for me, I always try and find a way to be the person I would be with or without the wheelchair. I really see how you have nursing in your background. Do you think it makes it harder or easier because you had that level of understanding?

Sam [00:10:23] Maybe Hoda, i should say, but he's maybe I mean, I've never been on I've never been the patient before. So yeah, I did find it hard, especially in the first couple of months when I wasn't when I was in Roanoke or in Sydney on a spinal unit. Yeah, I found it. I did find it hard and I didn't want to be annoying. I didn't want to be what was annoying patients on the bus all the time and being demanding. So I just put up with it and put up with the pain is I would have done anything to be actually the one looking after the person. Yeah. Yeah. It's strange.

Peta [00:10:57] And you still love to travel considering your accident is connected to travel.

Sam [00:11:02] Well, funny you say that, because I remember after the accident of signing and navigating on a plane again, I'm my travelling days are over anyway because we used to go to sort of I guess remote places, you know, like I know when we went to Ethiopia we went all the way down South Sudan and yeah, you know, I'd go trekking in Britain or things like that. I liked the more remote, kind of not crazy places, but you know, off the beaten track.

Peta [00:11:31] They inaccessible places.

Sam [00:11:34] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, yes, I'm I'm saying I'll never travel again. Well, the first time I got on an aeroplane was to go to Italy and that was with my kayak coach guy who's she's an absolute legend. And it was, it was pretty cool. It was pretty cool to get travelling again. I mean, obviously, as you know, it's not the same, you know, I have to take so much stuff with me and but you know, I guess you just have to work around it and think outside the square.

Peta [00:12:03] So tell me about Penguin.

Sam [00:12:06] I was in hospital for about seven months. And when I came home, that was probably that was the lowest of life. You know, I came home and and I was like, this is my new life. And to be honest, I hated it. I was so sad. I'm so sad. And then I used to sit here and I'd overlook my favourite soft spot and that would make me sad because we can see the beach from our house. And yeah, I was not in a good headspace. Try and put on a happy face, but it was pretty challenging. And then about three months after I got home, we were at my mom's house. I was with Noah and. Yeah, and that's when Noah found a little baby magpie that had been blown out of Vanessa. And we thought she would have died if we left it. So we picked her up, and we bought a home, and. And we looked after her, and she was with us for two years. She wishes. I think for me. So she's amazing company. You know, he's also I felt like I was in house arrest for the first year because I couldn't drive and to rely on everybody, come pick me up and take me out. So just having Penguin to look after she I don't know. I think it took the focus off me and we all put our energy and focus into Penguin, which I liked. And then I remember in the beginning I used to say camp like, okay, you can take my photo with Penguin, but you can't shoot the way it is. I was kind of embarrassed, which I know that sounds really bad. And so that was fine. And then the boys suggested we set an Instagram account. It was just for a bit of fun. So we called it Penguin the Magpie. And then I think an ABC journalist saw it and it just went crazy then. And then a few publishers wanted to do a book on us, and actually no one knew my story. And so Ken got a phone call of HarperCollins and they're like, Oh, we want to do a story on Penguin and camps. Like, Oh, you mean Penguin and Sam. And then they're like, Who's Sam? And so you then Cam had to explain, you know, who I was and what had happened. So, yeah, it's kind of crazy.

Peta [00:14:14] So then the book comes out. It's crazy success. It lands in the hands of a certain person.

Sam [00:14:22] A friend of Cam's is best friends with Naomi Watts. And I gave Naomi the book and. And, yes, she fell in love with it. And I think it resonated with her because she's also a mum. And she said, I want to make it into a movie and I want to play Sam. Which is pretty random. So yeah, it was crazy, but it was it was really fun. It was a fun, fun journey. And Naomi, honestly, she's so lovely. So yeah, that was fun. And it would be challenging at times. Like it'd be confronting, like because I filmed it in our house and you know, I'd be on set. Naomi would want me on set all the time. She'd want me just to watch it, like, get dressed, you know, like, and transfer and things like that. So it looked authentic. And yeah, I remember there was this one scene and it was when the kids were sick. And that really happened because it was Ollie. He was sick and he's the baby. And I remember one night he was yelling out for can and not for me, and I was just devastated. That's my job. I should be the one jumping up and helping him. And so they had they they had that scene in the film when I was one that Loach knew, said his name is lying in the bed like I did in crying. And then, you know, and then she's like, What am I if I'm not a mom, you know? And then she's like, I hate this. And yeah, I find that same scene. I love it, but it's, it's pretty sad.

Peta [00:15:50] Yeah. For me, I would find that super triggering if I had to go back to the hardest points of my life and have it on screen and have other people interpret how quote unquote difficult life is, that must have been challenging.

Sam [00:16:05] Yeah. Yeah. No, it was. It was.

Peta [00:16:10] And not only that sort of overnight, it feels like you're not a pinup girl, but like an example of what it is to be disabled.

Sam [00:16:21] Yeah, I guess. Yes, I do struggle with that being that.

Peta [00:16:28] The term disabled.

Sam [00:16:29] I kind of I know. I just find it really tricky. How do you feel about that? How do you feel that that would.

Peta [00:16:37] Allow not to be like stereotypical? But it's been a journey, like I was brought up. And told that I didn't have a disability. I just couldn't look. That's for.

Sam [00:16:50] That.

Peta [00:16:51] So that was the the sort of positive spin on what my condition was. And while that probably is a little bit problematic in 2020 two's perspective, it was the right thing to tell me as a little girl, because I've never really felt different. I've never really considered myself as being othered. When I was really little, I could make friends quite easily, so it was the right thing for me. But as I got older, people automatically defined me as being disabled. I had to confront it because it's not going away. And I had to sort of. Making a positive in my own right. I'm really proud of being disabled because I sort of think, look at all the things I've achieved with all the barriers that having a disability is.

Sam [00:17:49] Yeah. No, it's true. No, it is. It is true. And you know what? The one thing that I do love about having told a story. Well, my story is that it has not inspired, but it's encouraged so many people with a disability or even without like to just sort of get, you know, get on with life, but just try new things and and just find something that you love. Because when you find something that you love doing and you have a purpose, it just makes your world so much better, you know, just brings happiness. I think it's your world. And that's what I've discovered. So when I do meet other people or hear from other people who have like a disability, like whether it be a spinal cord injury, missing limbs, visually impaired, whatever, like, yeah, that's yeah. If I, if I can help them make their life a little bit better, then, then go for it, I guess. I don't know that that's the one thing that I the one thing since the accident then I am kind of proud of.

Peta [00:18:53] I would probably being be being disingenuous to say that occasionally I don't think about who I would be if I wasn't in a wheelchair. I always think that in some ways we all have ghosts of ourselves, of the non-disabled version of us.

Sam [00:19:14] Yeah. Well, well, yeah. Jesus, it's very interesting talking to you because, you know. Sure, but in which case. But. But it's just so interesting, like, to hear your perspective.

Peta [00:19:27] As far as like because you probably are still in the process of accepting or possibly never accept having a disability or how do you term yourself if you don't like the word disabled?

Sam [00:19:41] Well, I guess I am and I am. I just don't I don't know. I just say I'm just in a wheelchair.

Peta [00:19:48] Okay. Okay. So do you then find social media really tricky to sort of navigate?

Sam [00:19:56] Yeah, I do find it really hard because it's kind of, you know, going to put up a photo of you having, like, a crazy bad day, you know? And it's always like you always put up the photos where we having fun or you doing something kind of cool. And yeah, I do. I do feel guilty because it's kind of like every day is not great. You know, I sometimes I do. I have really good days and and I do have fun. But some days, like, is so over it. And, you know, it's like, can I just please have a break from the body and break from the constant pain and and everything that, you know, that I'm in.

Peta [00:20:33] So I know we've been talking about a lot of difficult things, but what are the positives that have come out of your experience nine years ago? Sam.

Sam [00:20:43] The one point that yeah, really positive things. I realised that there are so many con people actually in this world. And it's funny because I think a simple act of kindness can totally change someone's life. And that happened to me with the surfing. I got a letter of a lady who I didn't know and whose son is a professional surfer. And it was just my beautiful letter. And she and she's the one who encouraged me to get back out on the boat. And so if it hadn't been for her simple act of kindness, of taking her time and writing me a letter and making me some necklaces, I don't think I would have surfed. So every time every time I do an interview or something, I'm always like, thank you all. You know, she she yeah. I owe a lot to her.

Peta [00:21:32] So what do you wish people better understood about living with a disability or being in a wheelchair?

Sam [00:21:38] I well I mean obviously they must realise it's quite challenging. But at the same time like we can, we can still do amazing things, we can still have fun and try to live the best life we can.

Peta [00:21:53] Sorry. Last question. What do you wish will be like in the future for people with disabilities?

Sam [00:22:00] I would like everyone to be treated equally. Just treat people normally. Because like you said, we just numb, we just can't walk. And, you know, if you're missing a name or whatever, like just a normal person who just has a few more challenges.

Peta [00:22:16] I always think I'm going to thrive in the nursing home because they're all you know, everybody else is just getting used to not having their mobility in a be like, say you guys, we're all going to end up disabled whether you like it.

Sam [00:22:31] That is various you we like doing doughnuts around them popping wheelies.

Peta [00:22:37] Well, thank you so much for your time, Tim. I've thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you. It's such a blast.

Sam [00:22:43] Thank you so much for having me. I love talking to you.

Peta [00:22:48] I think you can probably tell how much I loved my conversation with Sam. I hope one day she gets to a point where she can love herself full of herself exactly the way she is. Because to me and I have no doubt you can hear it, too. She's absolutely awesome. If you did enjoy our conversation, can I encourage you to leave a writing interview? If you listen on Apple Podcasts or share the episode with a friend. It'll help more people find the podcast. So until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye.


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