Sam's Story - Written by Karen Madaras

Sam Sann

My life has always been a series of obstacles.  I was born in Phnompenh,  Cambodia.  When I was 5 years old my mother, overwhelmed with 7 children, left me and my sister to be raised by my grandmother.  I will never forget her saying goodbye to me at sunset and walking away into the distance.  I was so sad I cried for days.  At the time I didn't understand her decision to leave me but now I think it was destiny.  If she hadn't left me with my grandmother I may not have survived the communist regime.  When I was 9 years old the Khmer Rouge forced everyone in my community of Batdambang to leave their homes and move to the country with only what we could carry.  We were forced to learn to survive in the wilderness.  Shortly after I was forced to work in the labor camps from sun up to sun down with only one meal a day. Always the same, 1 cup of rice soup. I learned at a young age to become independent. I remember one night when it was raining and I was alone and cold with not even a blanket.  I didn't know if I would survive the night but it never crossed my mind to give up.


When I was 12 years old I made a decision to escape the labor camp and find my grandmother.  I left with a friend from the camp. There was a storm and flooding so no one noticed us leave.  Unfortunately, my friend didn't make it through the flood.  I finally found my grandmother's village.  My grandmother told me and my sister that the Khmer Rouge was planning to exterminate the Cambodian race.  We decide to leave and walked for days to the Thailand border where we were rescued by the Red Cross. We were transported to San Diego and then Houston.  Once in Houston we stayed a YMCA housing for six months. We ended up in a poor neighborhood in the 3rd ward. 


School was another obstacle I had to overcome. I had missed 4 years of school while I was in labor camps. Trying to catch up felt impossible at times.  When I arrived in the US I did not speak any English, and I was put in classes with kids many years younger than me.  I pretended to be younger so they wouldn't make fun of me being so behind.  For many years I was bullied for my broken English and my race.  I spent most of those years by myself drawing and making sketches. 


After I graduated I worked hard and eventually started my own hair salon.  Then, one day, I was watching TV and Season 1 of American Ninja Warrior came on.  They took several of the top ninjas and they competed against other ninjas around the world. The Americans were beaten badly.  Being an immigrant and grateful for all the opportunities this country has given me, I decided to build a ninja warrior training gym to help American athletes compete in the world stage.  I trained many of the top ninjas including Drew Dreschel and Daniel Gil. The gym continued to grow and became a training ground for not only adults but for kids learning the sport.


All of these experiences have taught me to work hard in order to survive. I will put in that same work ethic to make sure this new facility is a success. 

If you are facing an obstacle that seems impossible, please remember if you persevere you CAN overcome anything.

 Written by Karen Madaras


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