Man of Steel

Sam Bramham likes a joke, but his devotion to his Paralympics training and helping disabled children is no laughing matter. Emalee Sacco reports.

He may stretch the truth and tell you that his leg was mauled off by a kangaroo or even go as far as saying that it was burnt off in a house fire in an attempt to save an old woman; but both stem from the essence of Sam Bramham’s humour rather than highlighting the exact truth behind the gold medallist’s life.

The 27-year-old Paralympian swimmer, public speaker and prankster made a reputation for himself from an early age, having competed in the 2004 Athens Paralympics, bringing home gold for his Australian team at age 16 and breaking the 100 metres world butterfly record at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

In 2009 he was awarded the Order of Australia medal for his service to Australia overseas – a medal which was stolen from his parents’ Ivanhoe home in August this year by thieves who left behind his gold, silver and bronze medals. It has not been returned.

Since the Paralympics, Sam, who studied sport marketing and management at Latrobe University, has entered and exited the 2014 Big Brother house, landed his dream job in the sports industry in Sydney and is now a motivational speaker. He has taken ambassadorial positions to help victims of bullying and those with disabilities and is now training for the upcoming Rio Paralympics.

In September 2014, Sam was a contestant in the Big Brother house – he was sixth to be evicted – alongside 23-year-old magician Lawson Reeves. The two developed a strong bromance in the house. “It was very helpful to have Sam around, he reminded me a lot of my brothers and it was handy to have someone who was on my side,” Lawson said.

The two pranksters continued their friendship on their arrival back into reality and lived together in Melbourne for a year until Sam’s recent move to Sydney.

Born without a femur, Sam has never let his disability stand in the way of his success.

He says his parents had the same mentality from a young age and pushed his limits. “One of your legs looks kind of weird but we’ll make it work,” they told him.

With a childhood surrounded by sports, Sam tested the waters with various sporting teams but the push into the pool came from his sports teacher, Russell O’Toole, who elevated him to the next stage of swimming and influenced him to take up water polo. “He said to me, look you can’t run fast, you’re actually quite slow… you hobble in fact. You’ve got great upper body strength, so why don’t you stick to swimming?” He took that advice.

At age five Sam underwent surgery to have his leg amputated and to be fitted for a steel, prosthetic leg. With such an identifiable disability, his life could have been restrictive. However he says, “Being born with a disability I know no different, I was born like an able bodied person in my own mind.” He has kept that mentality till this day.

Sam has played a significant role with Disability Sport and Recreation, which promotes sport and recreation opportunities to Victorians with disabilities. It is an involvement he is passionate about.

DSR allows him to not only share his story, but to be able to involve children with disabilities into sports, to develop a healthy and happy life, no different to anyone else.

Jared Foster, Sam’s friend and manager at DSR, describes him as a very empathetic and genuine guy who puts a lot of involvement into children’s programs and rehabilitation programs. “I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth – I was in a very fortunate family where my dad did quite well for himself. I never knew any struggles to pay for sporting equipment but there are families out there that can’t afford them,” Sam says.

Tim Nield, community and member services manager for Disability Sport and Recreation, says Sam joined their team at a very young age, participating in many opportunities. He took an active part in the Wheel Talk program that travels statewide, addressing primary and high school students to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

Sam Bramham (Right)
Sam Bramham (Right)

With the realisation that there isn’t much money in disabled swimming, public speaking sprang to mind for Sam, as he began speaking to schools at age 16 to project his story. He now speaks to a much broader audience, from schools to businesses, governments, federal representatives and international government bodies.

Sam’s nomination for the order of Australia also came because he was a role model to his younger teammates. He says he was a bit of a naughty boy on the team, but was pleased to realise that all his joking had alleviated the stress for the younger athletes. “Goes to show being a naughty bastard does pay off.”

Jared, who calls him a “cheeky shit”, says “he is like a brother to a lot of people.” He didn’t know Sam when he was competing in the Paralympics, but Sam approached him for support regarding the 2012 London Paralympics. “It was a late night coffee and he sorta came to me and said I don’t think I wanna go… I need some advice,” he says.

The pair worked through what Sam wanted to achieve and he decided not to participate in the 2012 games, but after retiring them with a shoulder injury, he is now working towards Rio next year.

Equipped with humour, talent and determination, Sam continues to strive for his own and Australia’s success. For the upcoming 2016 Rio Paralympics he is being sponsored by Toyota Australia in his effort to be selected for the Australian team. In training for the paratriathalon, he says, “It’s a totally new realm.”

But he’s taking nothing for granted: “I can’t expect that I’ll make the team because I’ve been to the Paralympics before.”