Introducing one incredible woman, and the little magpie that changed her life.
It’s amazing how a single moment in time, or a chance meeting, can change the course of our lives so completely. Perhaps no one knows this better than the Sam Bloom, Aussie ambassador, speaker, mother, paracanoeing champion and twice world para surfing champion.
Sam’s is a story that speaks universally of love, courage, determination and resilience… as well as the healing power we can draw from unlikely friends. So much, in fact, that it’s now an internationally best-selling book and major movie starring Naomi Watts!
On family holiday in Thailand back in 2013, Sam fell through a rotting balcony railing, crashing 6 metres to the concrete below. Though she was lucky to be alive, she suffered devastating injuries, including severe damage to her spinal cord that left her paralysed from the chest down.
Returning home to a life that no longer felt like her own, Sam momentarily lost herself in anger and despair. Until an injured magpie chick – aptly named Penguin by Sam’s three sons – became her unexpected saviour.
The power of Penguin Bloom…
“When I came home from hospital, I felt like the world’s worst mum. I was unhappy, I hated my life. I was so angry and sad. I knew I wasn’t the mum I used to be,” says Sam unflinchingly. “And when Penguin came into my life, she gave me back that confidence – I realised I was capable of looking after something. I wasn’t as useless as I thought I was.”
With Cam at work and the kids at school, Penguin and Sam became close confidants back at the family home. “She was the perfect companion. I’d talk to her, tell her what was going on in my head. She was a great therapist; never judgemental!”
Never give up…
From this chance meeting and enduring relationship, Sam found a renewed sense of purpose and strength. She took up competitive paracanoeing, placing 13th in the world and winning two Australian titles before representing the country at the 2015 World Championships in Italy. In the subsequent years, Sam has also made a return to surfing, taking out Gold for Australia at both the 2018 and 2020 World Para Surfing Championships.
When Sam left for Italy, Penguin returned to the wild for good. “I always say she came at the perfect time and she left at the perfect time,” says Sam of the departure. “I was in a such a better headspace than I had been. I had a goal. I was training every day. So when she left, of course we were sad, but it was also okay.”
The Blooms behind the books…
Sam’s husband Cameron is a professional photographer, and he documented his family’s journey, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. It’s a stunning body of work that forms the basis for the international bestselling book Penguin Bloom, in collaboration with New York Times bestselling author Bradley Trevor Greive. You’ll find signed copies of Penguin Bloom alongside Sam’s second book, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, on the shelves at Darlo General.
“When we published our first book, we got so many messages from people all around the world thanking us for telling our story, for keeping it real and honest,” says Sam. “So, Bradley suggested we write another one! Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, is the story more from my perspective. It’s a pretty honest account of when your life doesn’t turn out how you thought it would.”
Now a major film!
Friend of the family Emma Cooper is an LA-based producer who also happens to be best buds with Aussie actress Naomi Watts. She showed her copy of Penguin Bloom to Naomi on the off chance she might be keen to make it into a film. The very next day, Naomi called Emma to tell her she was on board.
“I think it really resonated with Naomi because she’s a mother too – she really just got it,” says Sam. “She did such an awesome job portraying the anger and frustration and sadness I was feeling in the subtlest of expressions – it was unbelievable. She’s also a beautiful person, so down to earth and just lovely.”
With a full and beautiful life still being lived, Sam says her triumphs ultimately come back to a little black and white bird that saved her life. “If we never found Penguin, none of this crazy journey would have happened. We wouldn’t have the books; we wouldn’t have the movie… we owe her so much.”