How Sam Bloom Survived Devastating Injuries To Become World Para Surfing Champ

Sam Bloom — pictured with her magpie Penguin —has become an inspiration after surviving her accident (Cameron Bloom Photography)

It was January 2013 and life, as Sam Bloom had known it, was about to change forever.

In a split second, a dream holiday in Thailand with her husband, Cameron, and their sons — Rueben, Noah and Oliver — turned into an unimaginable nightmare. Bloom fell through a rotten balcony railing, crashing six metres on to concrete below.

She miraculously survived but suffered catastrophic injuries.


A post shared by Sam Bloom (@samjbloom)

Bloom's skull was fractured in various places. Both her lungs were ruptured and her spinal cord was shattered, leaving her paralysed from the chest down.

"My life changed in an instant," Bloom said. "I used to be really active before my accident and, then to be paralysed from the chest down, I was devastated."

It became the start of what was the darkest period of her life, and the most challenging for the entire Bloom family.

"As far as I was concerned, my life was over," Bloom said.

Fast-forward nine years, and Bloom's rehabilitation journey has transformed her life from one of despair and fragility to hope and resilience. Bloom is a two-time world para surfing champion and the author of Penguin Bloom, an international bestseller that also became a Hollywood movie starring Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln.

Naomi Watts (left) played Bloom in the 2020 film adaptation of Penguin Bloom (Cameron Bloom Photography)

Next month, she heads to Oahu to compete at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championships. The event — featuring elite adaptive surfers from around the world — will be contested at Waikiki's famous surf break, Queens.

"It's going to be so much fun. I've never been to Hawaii," Bloom said.

Para surfing 'growing every year'

More than 90 surfers with disabilities from sixteen nations will be competing in seven divisions as they look to pave the way for the inclusion of para surfing at the Paralympics.

"It's really cool. It's going to be great, " Bloom said.

After surfing's successful Olympic debut in Tokyo last year, the International Surfing Association (ISA) is hoping to see para surfing included at the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles after its bid to feature in Paris in 2024 was unsuccessful.

"Para surfing is huge and is growing every year," Bloom said.

Surfing has played a crucial role in Bloom's (right) emotional recovery (Cameron Bloom Photography)

Bloom is thrilled to see more people competing in the sport.

"It's fantastic and just brings so much happiness to people whose lives haven't turned out the way that they had planned," she said. Para surfing continues to gain momentum in Australia, with Bloom recently named the female para surfer of the year at the Australian Surfing Awards.

"It was awesome, because it's the first time Surfing Australia has recognised para surfing in its awards," Bloom said. "That means a lot to me and to so many other surfers who have overcome insurmountable challenges to get back out on a board and surf again."

There are approximately 20,800 Australians living with a spinal cord injury, for which there is currently no cure. Globally, between 250,000 to 500,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury every year.

Those statistics were recently highlighted at the annual Wings for Life World Run, a global event that has been held on the first weekend of May since 2014. Runners and wheelchair participants from around the world take part in a fun run to raise money and awareness for spinal cord  injury research.

Bloom — a Wings for Life World Run ambassador — recently participated 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 per cent of the money raised goes straight to research."

Bloom's special bond

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, went on to save Bloom and her family.

Shortly after Bloom returned home after a long stint in hospital, she was consumed by grief and despair.

"I was not in a good head space," Bloom said. "I just was so sad and angry because I missed my old life."

Like Bloom, Penguin was lucky to survive after falling from her nest. The two struck up a bond, with one becoming the other's salvation.

"She was so cute," Bloom said. "Penguin brought some happiness and laughter back into our house, which was much needed."

Bloom has represented Australia internationally, winning two world para surf championships.

Bloom rediscovered her love of sport and the ocean, going on to win two national titles in para canoeing, as well as gold at the 2019 and 2020 World Para Surfing Championships.

"I started to get my confidence back and feel like my old self," Bloom said.

Through Penguin, para sport and the constant support of her boys, Bloom came to realise there were "still opportunities out there to do pretty amazing things".

Her journey of healing and hope — after heartache and helplessness — was captured through the lens of her photographer husband, Cameron.

Andrew Lincoln (left) pictured with Bloom (centre) and her husband Cameron (Cameron Bloom Photography)

Penguin Bloom has now been translated into fourteen different languages — most recently in Polish — as well as becoming a major film of the same title.

"I've received many messages from people all around the world saying thank you because they don't feel so alone," Bloom said.

"And that's been the best thing for me, that maybe you are making someone's life just a little bit happier."

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
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DudeSweetDudeSweet Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 7:20am

Excellent news.

What a champion.

There’s a wheelchair bound fella who I used to see paddling out Nusa Dua quite a bit. Unbelievable effort anywhere , let alone a powerful reef break well offshore.

Panman's picture
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Panman Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 8:24am

Another great story from an inspirational

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 10:57am

Check out the big smile on her face as she's dropping into that wave. Just great.
I've always said the ocean is for everyone. Whether you're on some sort of surf craft or in your togs. The ocean's got a way of helping us leave behind our land based worries and we've all got those.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 12:12pm

So good. All the best to her and her family, and the many many others in similar circumstances.

drodders's picture
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drodders Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 12:52pm

Thanks for posting that

tiger's picture
tiger's picture
tiger Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 2:23pm

Great article on what is an amazing story.

Komodo's picture
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Komodo Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 5:16pm

Surf well,Sam

zenagain's picture
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zenagain Saturday, 14 May 2022 at 7:14pm

Reading that gladdens my heart.

Nav Fox's picture
Nav Fox's picture
Nav Fox Sunday, 15 May 2022 at 7:52am

I’ll have to read the book. Good luck in Hawaii, I hope you have the trip of a life time !

Tooold2bakook's picture
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Tooold2bakook Monday, 16 May 2022 at 9:16am

Great news and what an inspiration. All the best

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Monday, 16 May 2022 at 9:37am

Buy the book and help the family. Great read so win/ win.

tonks's picture
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tonks Thursday, 19 May 2022 at 2:01am

Your a legend Sam!Thanks for inspiring me to never give up no matter what.

masseydoug's picture
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masseydoug Saturday, 21 May 2022 at 9:38am

Brilliant Sam and a big shout out for the Disabled Surfing Association(DSA) in OZ that do so much for anyone prepared to have a go regardless of what their disability might be. Must put that movie on my bucket list