It was January 2013 and life as Sam Bloom had known it was about to change forever.
In a split second, a dream vacation in Thailand with her husband, Cameron, and their sons – Rueben, Noah and Oliver – turned into an unimaginable nightmare.
Bloom fell through a rotting balcony railing, crashing 6 meters onto concrete below.
She miraculously survived but suffered catastrophic injuries.
Bloom’s skull was fractured in various places. Both of her lungs were ruptured and her spinal cord was shattered, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.
“My life changed in an instant,” Bloom said.
It became the beginning of what was the darkest period of his life and the most difficult for the entire Bloom family.
“As far as I was concerned, my life was over,” Bloom said.
Fast forward nine years, and Bloom’s journey of rehabilitation has transformed her life from despair and fragility to hope and resilience.
Bloom is a two-time world parasurf champion and the author of Penguin Bloom, an international bestseller that also became a Hollywood film starring Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln.
Next month, she’s heading to Oahu to compete in the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championships.
The event – featuring elite adaptive surfers from around the world – will be contested at the famous surf break in Waikiki, Queens.
“It’s going to be so much fun. I’ve never been to Hawaii,” Bloom said.
Para surfing “grows every year”
More than 90 disabled surfers from 16 nations will compete in seven divisions as they seek to pave the way for the inclusion of parasurfing in the Paralympic Games.
“It’s really cool. It’s gonna be awesome,” Bloom said.
Following surfing’s successful Olympic debut in Tokyo last year, the International Surfing Association (ISA) hopes to see parasurfing included in the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles after a failed bid in Paris in 2024.
“Para surfing is huge and growing every year,” Bloom said.
Bloom is excited to see more people competing in the sport.
“It’s fantastic and brings so much happiness to people whose lives didn’t turn out the way they planned,” she said.
Para surfing continues to gain momentum in Australia, with Bloom recently being named Female Para Surfer of the Year at the Australian Surfing Awards.
“It was great because it’s the first time Surfing Australia has recognized parasurfing in its awards,” Bloom said.
There are around 20,800 Australians living with spinal cord injury, for which there is currently no cure.
Worldwide, between 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury each year.
These statistics were recently highlighted during the annual Wings for Life World Run, a global event held the first weekend in May since 2014.
Wheelchair runners and participants from around the world take part in a fun race to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injury research.
Bloom, an ambassador for the Wings for Life World Run, recently took part in the Sydney event.
“[Wings for Life] is very important to me and very close to my heart,” Bloom said.
“The best thing about it is that 100% of the money raised goes directly to research.”
Bloom’s Special Bond
The wings have become a symbolic theme for the Blooms.
It was an injured magpie chick – rescued by her sons and affectionately named Penguin – who, in turn, saved Bloom and her family.
Shortly after Bloom returned home from a long hospital stay, she was consumed with grief and despair.
“I wasn’t in a good headspace,” Bloom said.
Like Bloom, Penguin was lucky to survive after falling from its nest.
The two formed a bond, with one becoming the other’s salvation.
“She was so cute,” Bloom said.
“The penguin brought some much needed happiness and laughter to our home.”
Bloom rediscovered her love of the sport and the ocean, winning two national titles in paracanoe, as well as gold at the 2019 and 2020 Parasurf World Championships.
“I started to regain my confidence and feel like I used to,” Bloom said.
Thanks to Penguin, parasport and the constant support of his boys, Bloom realized that there were “still opportunities to do some pretty amazing things”.
Her journey of healing and hope – after grief and helplessness – was captured through the lens of her photographer husband, Cameron.
Penguin Bloom has now been translated into 14 different languages – most recently Polish – and has become a major movie of the same title.
“I’ve had many messages from people all over the world thanking me for not feeling so alone,” Bloom said.
“And that’s been the best thing for me, that maybe you make someone’s life a little happier.”
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