From the point of view of Sam Grew it is easy to describe.
You can start by cataloging his many achievements: gold and silver medalist of the Paralympic Games, three-time world champion in high jump, world record holder. You can describe in detail his experience of overcoming cancer and re-learning to walk after having his leg amputated when he was a schoolboy. And you would be inadmissible if not to mention that he is now a medical student at one of the best medical schools in the country at the University of Michigan.
But this does not reflect anything close to the full picture. And it’s not that Sam would really care what you know about him. I wanted to understand him indeed like. If you met Sam at the bar and talked to him for an hour, what would be your impressions?
As it turned out, Sam Grew is extremely inconspicuous.
Sam loves his mornings and each one starts the same. After his alarm clock at 6:30 he greets his two dogs, whom he loves.
“Captain Jack definitely belongs to Maddie,” Sam said. “Snoopy is definitely mine.”
Maddie Martinez is Sam’s girlfriend. The couple met while visiting Notre Dame four years ago. Now they are fulfilling their dreams together, both studying to be doctors.
“Maddie was huge, huge, huge, supporting me all the way,” Sam said. “Whether it’s cooking dinner if I have late exercises, or protein shakes waiting for me, or just letting me speak to her if I have bad practices … she was just the foundation that kept me afloat.”
After greeting the fangs, Sam prepares a hearty breakfast for him and Maddie. The first hour and a half every morning is closed in his schedule – time to relax and prepare for the long day ahead.
At 8:30 the focus is medical school. Sam is a freshman, which means there are a lot of lectures. Most days he is at the table until about 5pm, watching pre-recorded video after pre-recorded video, trying his best to keep up with the ever-increasing amount of material that the trainee doctor has to study.
Sometimes it’s hard. The routine becomes monotonous. The ultimate goal, however, keeps Sam stable.
At age 13, Sam developed osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer – in his tibia that turned his once normal life into 6th grade. After two years in the hospital, the surgeons performed a daring procedure called a rotary plastichoping to retain as much functionality as possible.
The operation was successful. His ankle now functions like a knee, Sam learned to walk and went back to school. But after not being in class for two years, his reintegration was not without problems – entering the first year of high school, Sam received no more than an education in 6th grade.
However, he had a vision of his future.
“I have to feel a lot of the intangibles that go into medicine, a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes, what a good doctor is and what it doesn’t look like,” Sam said. “The last time I came out of the hospital, I felt like all these lessons had been accumulated, and it was almost irresponsible not to go and not try to give back to those who are going through something similar to what I also faced.”
Eight years after missing more than half of high school, he was accepted into every medical school he applied to: Stanford, Elle and Harvard.
He chose Michigan.
“I love medicine,” Sam said. “I love mostly medicine from people. I also have many other hobbies. I love to drink with friends and more that is not necessarily compatible with other schools. These people (in Michigan) are the people I wanted to be with. “
5pm means Sam’s time to get up from the computer and take a breath. Captain Jack and Snoopy’s walk and cooking dinner – Sam loves to cook – usually do their thing.
19:30 – practice. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays Sam goes to the University of Athletics for jumping. He works closely with several coaches, both from the U.S. Paralympic team and with the Adaptive Sports program here in Michigan.
But the most significant managerial voice in Sam’s ear was the one that was there all the time. Kyle Micheler is a jumping coach at Goshen College in Indiana, near his hometown of Sam Middlebury. The couple met in 2015 when Sam was training on the college track.
“He’s the coach who brought me to the position I’m in today,” Sam said.
Sam records each of his jumps and sends them directly to Micheler, who then gives detailed feedback.
Make no mistake, Sam is one of the greatest Paralympic high jumpers, and he got it mostly because of his unwavering work ethic. But training is not always painless.
“Now that I can only train at the end of the day and I’m usually exhausted, and on some days without a coach, it can be very hard to force myself to go and do it for myself,” Sam said. “I didn’t have a choice before, and it was pretty easy.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays Sam changes the track to a simulator. As part of the Adaptive Sports program in Michigan, Sam works at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, an institution that provides a variety of services to members of the community with disabilities.
No matter where Sam trains, he is always accompanied by one subject – his notebook. High jump is an extremely technical sport, and recording his thoughts and feelings during training helps him keep track of all the little information that an elite high jumper should take into account.
Having won gold at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Sam has officially reached the pinnacle of his skill. This success did not go unnoticed. This fall, Sam was honored for his performance in Tokyo during the Michigan national football team break against Washington. His story has been featured in many news items, including NBC. Sam was recently asked to be a speaker at the TEDxUofM conference on campus.
However, Sam spends little time thinking about how his successes affect him, instead preferring to view his achievements as instrumental works for a broader purpose.
“I like (attention) in certain contexts,” Sam said. “But sometimes I really want to just be a student in the classroom, and sometimes I’m just angry and grumpy and I don’t even want to be noticed.”
Sam is willing to sacrifice his desire to fly under the radar, however, if that means he can serve a greater purpose.
“But for the most part, I think it’s great because any attention helps promote the Paralympic movement, raises awareness and helps people admire it. It’s nice when people talk about a Paralympic athlete, because it wasn’t always like that. “
The day’s workout ends at 9:30 p.m., and Sam returns home to have some recovery and a show with Maddie.
Sleep time comes soon at 11 p.m. After about an hour of spinning – Sam finds it hard to turn off his brain these days – he goes to sleep and gets ready to do it all over again in six and a half hours.
Sam is proud of his awards and the balance between a Paralympic gold medalist and a medical student. But it is not always the work of love. And it’s not forever.
“I really want to at least achieve (the 2024 Paris Paralympics),” said Sam. “And it will be a very good time for me to retire. I will become a doctor of medical sciences a few months after that, and it will simply be impossible to continue. “
Until then, balancing will continue, to the surprise of many. Sam is aware of the legacy he leaves and the examples he provides. Outwardly his story is the epitome of responsibility, drive and cruelty. What Sam has achieved at such a young age is truly remarkable.
But when you sit with him, Sam seems much more excited to talk about other less wonderful topics – his love of grilling, his attempts to learn to play the guitar, his immense loyalty to Notre Dame and how much he values time with those loves.
So if you met Sam at a bar and talked to him for an hour, chances are you’ll never know you’ve been in the company of a Paralympic gold medalist who holds the world record for high jump. Instead, you’d probably get to know Sam as a regular guy.
And in the context of everything he did, it’s surprisingly unremarkable.