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Hero Worship Phoenix 2010 - Sam

Sam

See: a video interview with Sam.

My old friend Sam has a favorite quote: "If you're not the hero of your own story, then you're in the wrong story."

If that doesn't make you reevaluate your life's choices, try spending a half-hour with Sam.

Sam — just Sam; no last name — is a beautiful woman. Petite and slim with rich brunette hair, I've rarely seen her wear a stitch of makeup. She's constantly moving and animates conversations by swaying her arms, curling her fingers, or leaning in to squeeze your arm.

She's got a lot to say, so it's lucky she's so good at expressing herself.

She runs Detour Company, a theater troupe for adults with developmental and other challenges. With a passion for movement, Sam loves dance and theater and became obsessed with American Sign Language, a language she says is "like speaking Italian with your hands." Sam worked at the Phoenix School for the Deaf for many years and still uses American Sign Language to interpret at Gammage Auditorium. She has two children whom she raised as a single mother. Her daughter Becky, 31, shares her mother's love of the stage and has been a dancer her entire life. Her son Christopher, 33, is also a performer and, in many ways, has inspired Sam's life work.

Christopher suffered extensive brain damage at birth. When Sam found out, Christopher was just 2 years old. She was alone in a room with six specialists who told her he should be institutionalized.

The doctors said he would never be able to communicate. The doctors said he would never catch a ball with two hands. And they said she'd never be able to take him to a restaurant better than McDonald's.

"I choose not to believe those limitations," was her response to the experts. Then she walked out of the room.

Yep, she's awesome.

Today, Christopher is one of the actors with Detour. He communicates verbally, can catch a ball with two hands, frequents restaurants that serve more than fast food, and regularly draws standing ovations at Detour's performances.

I've known Sam all my life. Somehow, even with her insane schedule of raising kids and working, Sam found time to make friends. My mother was one of them. They were single moms together and I know they kept one another sane.

Her résumé aside, the woman is warm, loving, and over-the-top gushy — but she's not afraid to play hardball when she has to. She's my hero. — Lilia Menconi

New Times assistant Night & Day editor Lilia Menconi believes in two things: the arts and helping others. She interviewed Sam on August 18 at Sam's home in Phoenix.

I live in Phoenix because this is where I landed.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina.

While I'm driving, I talk to my daughter.

Phoenix could use more opportunities for adults with disabilities and other challenges.

Phoenix could use less egocentric thinking that they have the answer. We need to open our hearts just a tad more.

My favorite part of my work is I tell people that a play is called a play because it's play.

I'm surprised when there's enough time to do everything I want in a day.

If I were a character in a play, I would be a character from a revue and I would have to be a whole bunch of characters. If I could be a person that I saw on stage that I most admired — that one I could tell you in a second — I would be Maya Angelou. She's the most gracious person I ever saw take to the stage.

My favorite word is yes.

My least favorite word is no . . . and that gets me into trouble.

My heroes are my son and my daughter because they gave me roots and wings. Christopher keeps me attached to this earth and my daughter encourages me to fly.

Right before I go to bed, I always say my prayers.

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