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Photographic report: Sam Grewe


On the surface, Sam Grewe seems easy to describe.

You could start by cataloging his many accomplishments: Paralympic gold and silver medalist, three-time high jump world champion, world record holder. You could detail his experience overcoming cancer and learning to walk again after having a leg amputated in middle school. And you’d be remiss not to mention that he’s now a medical student at one of the top medical schools in the country at the University of Michigan.

But that doesn’t paint anything close to the full picture. And that’s not what Sam would really care about you knowing about him either. I wanted to understand what it is really to like. If you met Sam in a bar and talked to him for an hour, what would your impressions be?

Turns out, Sam Grewe is remarkably unremarkable.

Sam loves his mornings and he starts each one the same. After waking up at 6:30 a.m., he greets his two dogs, whom he adores.

“Captain Jack is definitely Mady’s,” Sam said. “Snoopy is definitely mine.”

Mady Martinez is Sam’s girlfriend. The couple met while attending Notre Dame four years ago. Now they are living their dreams together, both studying to become doctors.

“Mady has been huge, huge, huge in supporting me along the way,” Sam said. “Whether it’s cooking dinner when I have late workouts, or having a protein shake that waiting for me, or just letting me blow off steam when I have bad workouts…she’s just been the backbone to keep me afloat.”

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With the dogs welcomed, Sam prepares a hearty breakfast for him and Mady. The first hour and a half of every morning is jammed into his schedule – time to relax and prepare for the long day ahead.

At 8:30 a.m., attention turns to medical school. Sam is in first year, and that means lectures – a lot. Most of the time, he’s at his desk until about 5 p.m., watching pre-recorded video after pre-recorded video, doing his best to keep up with the ever-increasing volume of material a doctor-in-training has to learn.

Sometimes it’s difficult. The routine becomes monotonous. The end goal, however, keeps Sam steady.

At 13, Sam developed osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer – in his lower leg, upending his once normal life in 6th grade. After two years in the hospital, surgeons performed a daring procedure called rotationplastyhoping to retain as many features as possible.

The operation was a success. His ankle now functioning like his knee, Sam learned to walk again and went back to school. But after two years away from the classroom, his reintegration has been anything but seamless – entering his freshman year of high school, Sam had nothing more than a 6th grade education.

He did, however, have a vision for his future.

“I got to experience a lot of the intangibles that go into medicine, a lot of what goes on behind the scenes, what a good doctor is and what a good doctor doesn’t look like,” said said Sam. “When I left the hospital for the last time, I felt like I had accumulated all these lessons, and it was almost irresponsible not to move on and try to to give back to those who are going through something similar to what I also went through.”

Eight years after missing more than half of college, he was accepted to every medical school he applied to: Stanford, Yale, and Harvard among them.

He chose Michigan.

“I love medicine,” Sam said. “I especially love the human side of medicine. I also have many other hobbies. I like having drinks with my friends and lots of other things that are not necessarily compatible with other schools. These people (in Michigan) are the people I wanted to be with.

5:00 p.m. tells Sam it’s time to get up from the computer and catch his breath. Walking Captain Jack and Snoopy and cooking dinner – Sam loves to cook – usually does the trick.

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7:30 p.m. – training. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Sam goes to the Varsity Track and Field Center for jumps. He works closely with several coaches, both with the US Paralympic team and with the Adaptive Sports program here in Michigan.

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But the most important guiding voice in Sam’s ear is the one that’s always been there. Kyle Mishler is an aerials coach at Goshen College in Indiana, near Middlebury, Sam’s hometown. The pair met in 2015 when Sam was using the college track for training.

“It was the coach who put me in the position where I am today,” Sam said.

Sam records each of his jumps and sends them directly to Mishler, who then provides detailed feedback.

Make no mistake, Sam is among the greatest Paralympic high jumpers of all time, and he got there in large part because of his unflappable work ethic. But training isn’t always painless.

“Now that I can only train at the end of the day and I’m usually exhausted, and some days there’s no coach, it can be very difficult to force myself to do it myself- same,” Sam mentioned. “Before, I had no choice, and it was quite easy.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sam swaps the track for the weight room. As part of Michigan’s Adaptive Sports program, Sam lifts at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, a facility that offers a variety of services to community members with disabilities.

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Wherever Sam trains, one item always accompanies him: his notebook. High jumping is an extremely technical sport, and writing down his thoughts and feelings during practices helps him keep track of all the little bits of information an elite high jumper needs to consider.

After winning gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, Sam has officially reached the top of his game. This success has not gone unnoticed. This fall, Sam was recognized for his performance in Tokyo at halftime in Michigan’s home opener against Washington. Her story has been featured in many news outlets, including NBC. Sam was recently invited to be a guest speaker at the TEDxUofM conference on campus.

However, Sam spends little time thinking about how his successes reflect on himself, preferring instead to see his accomplishments as instrumental pieces to a larger goal.

“I like (the attention) in certain contexts,” Sam said. attention.”

Sam is willing to sacrifice his desire to fly under the radar, however, if it means he can serve a greater purpose.

“But overall I think it’s great because any attention helps promote the Paralympic movement, helps raise awareness and helps people get excited about it. It’s good to have people who talk about a Paralympic athlete, because that hasn’t always been the case.

Practice for the day ends at 9:30 p.m., and Sam heads home for recovery and a show with Mady.

Bedtime comes shortly after at 11:00 p.m. After about an hour of tossing and turning—Sam has a hard time shutting down his brain these days—he falls asleep and prepares to start all over again in six and a half hours.

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Sam is proud of his accolades and his balance between being a gold medal Paralympic athlete and a medical student. But it’s not always a labor of love. And it’s not sustainable forever.

“I really want to at least make it to the (2024 Paralympic Games in) Paris,” Sam said. “And it will be a very good point for me to retire. I will be a medical doctor a few months later, and it will simply not be possible to continue.

Until then, the balancing act will continue, to the amazement of many. Sam is aware of the legacy he leaves and the examples he sets. From the outside, its story is the epitome of responsibility, dynamism and courage. What Sam has accomplished at such a young age is truly remarkable.

But when you sit down with him, Sam seems much more excited to talk about other less notable topics – his love for grilling, his attempts to learn the guitar, his undying allegiance to Notre Dame and how much he enjoys spending time with those he loves.

So if you met Sam in a bar and talked with him for an hour, chances are you’d never realize you were in the company of a world-record-holding Paralympic gold medalist. high jump. Instead, you’d probably know Sam as a normal guy.

And in the context of everything he’s done, it’s remarkably commonplace.

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