This story was first published on Women’s Health on May 26 2022
BY KARA BYERS
If you don’t know Sam Bloom for her sporting feats – she’s won two golds and one bronze at the World Para Surfing Championships and represented Australia in paracanoeing – then you might know her as the inspiration for the global hit movie, Penguin Bloom.
In 2013, Sam’s life changed dramatically when, while on holiday in Thailand, she leaned against a rotten balcony railing. As it fell away so did Sam, plummeting six metres onto the concrete below. The accident left her paralysed from the chest down.
Coming to terms with her new reality, Sam fell into a depression, grieving an old life and sense of self. Then, the unlikely arrival of an injured baby magpie – who the family called Penguin – helped her recover.
“I’ll never forget feeling her tiny heart beating against the palm of my hand. Here was a broken, fragile creature that needed our help and, in that instant, I stopped thinking about myself.”
Shortly after, Sam, a lifelong surfer, decided to get back into the water.
A lot has happened since we last spoke to Sam in 2019, but she continues to defy barriers in life and sport, inspiring people around the world to do the same.
Here, Sam Bloom shares her Hollywood experience, what she’s been up to, and her goals for the future with Women’s Health Australia.
Having Hollywood turn one of the most challenging things I’ve experienced into a movie …
…was a really cool experience. I mean, it’s pretty bizarre too, because we’re just us. It was an honour to have Naomi Watts play me and Andrew Lincoln play my husband, Cam. They’re such high-calibre actors and told our story authentically, which I was thankful for.
Penguin flew away in 2015…
…and I haven’t seen her since. When she flew away, I was in a much better headspace because I was in Italy kayaking, so I was super busy and actually had a purpose. It’s kind of like she thought, “I’m out of here. I’ve done my job. See you later.”
I do feel like the accident totally changed me…
…I used to be always happy and energetic. I’d wake up in the morning pumped, but I’m not like that anymore. When I’m busy, it’s fine because I have something to do and a reason to get up.
Sport has helped me so much…
…I think 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.” It boosted my confidence and made me feel a little bit like my old self again.
There’s so much more pressure now I’m a two-time world champ…
It’s still fun but it’s way more nerve-wracking. In my last final, I was so nervous, probably the most nervous I’d been. I couldn’t eat. Then I came third. I was spewing. I thought I was surfing really well, but the final just didn’t happen for me. I was
Obviously winning is great, but I think the most fun thing about being a para-athlete is…
…the amazing community. That, to me, is the highlight of competitions. It’s just going and seeing everyone again from everywhere, from Costa Rica, Brazil, America, France – everywhere. It’s just the best.
Everybody has a story and everyone kind of gets it…
…even though we all have different injuries. 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. It’s just this amazing vibe.
All I want is to become a three-time world champion…
Then I’ll go, “Okay, you guys can just do it. That was all.” This could be the year it happens… I’ve got the Hawaiian Para Surf Championships in June, which will be fun – beautiful, warm water and amazing waves. Then, World Championships in December. I really want it so I’m just going to have to train, train and train.
Main image credit: Cameron Bloom, courtesy of @samjbloom