June 27, 2019

Disabled Bodybuilder ‘Will Figure Out a Way to Do It’

Photo courtesy of Sam Mograbi.

Sam Mograbi’s typical week consists of planks, swimming, crunches, pushups, contact dancing, Brazilian jiujitsu and weightlifting. He focuses on bulking up his legs and back so that he can compete in local bodybuilding competitions and become a physical trainer one day.

Sam, 26, works out constantly, even though he cannot walk or control his body movements. He has cerebral palsy, which was a result of a lack of oxygen during birth, and is in a wheelchair much of the time.

The Newport Beach resident has been training for 14 years and today is solidifying his reputation as a bodybuilder with cerebral palsy. In September 2017, a video of Sam striking poses at a competition was uploaded to Facebook and has more than 9 million views, 2,000 shares and comments from people all over the world, including many who were moved to tears and inspired by the video.

“Aside from his training appointments, he’s an animal at home,” said Linda Mograbi, Sam’s mother. “He does his own routine. He dedicates all his time to his training.”

Sam started exercising in New York, where he’s from, with a trainer who immediately recognized his motivation. Linda said that, back then, Sam was physically very different. “We had to strap him into the equipment with seat belts so he wouldn’t fall out,” she said. “His balance wasn’t there.”

Though it was difficult in the beginning, Sam didn’t give up. “His trainer would really push him,” Linda said. “He didn’t give up. His trainer was in his face and was amazed because every time he would push Sam to do more, Sam would want to keep going.”

“Aside from his training appointments, he’s an animal at home.” — Linda Mograbi

Sam, along with Linda, his father Robert (Bob) and his brothers Joseph and Matthew, moved to Newport Beach in 2009, when Sam was 17. Bob founded the company Matt’s Munchies, which makes fruit leather snacks found in local and nationwide stores such as Whole Foods, Glatt Mart, Sprouts, Erewhon and Gelson’s

For five years, Sam worked at the Matt’s Munchies factory in Santa Ana but quit in July 2017 to focus on his physical activities. To ensure he can get to and from his workouts, he has help from Dennis Gomes, who has been his personal assistant for seven years. Gomes’ brother Marvin Ramirez is his trainer. Gomes records Sam’s workouts and then sends them to a family member to post on social media.

Eventually, along with training clients of his own, Sam would like to become a model for Under Armour, which he wears, and post workout routines on YouTube, Linda said. Already, he’s invented a walker for people with disabilities that’s patented, according to Gomes. “It straps around Sam’s chest and his stomach area,” he said. “He was able to work at the factory and stand for eight hours a day on that.”

Because Sam has come so far over the past 14 years, Linda said that his goal is to be able to walk. “It’s not typical to start walking at this stage in life, but he keeps progressing.”

One thing is for sure: Sam is giving hope to everyone around him, and even millions of people around the world who he’s never even met.

“I complain about something and Sam, who has a disability, doesn’t let anything hold him back,” Gomes said. “If you tell him he can’t do it, he will figure out a way to do it. He is very inspiring.”

Finding their place [VIDEO]

Lauren Levine is settling in with a group of friends apartment to watch “American Idol,” when a look of panic comes over her face. She rummages around, finds her keys and darts out.

“I left the hair thing on,” she says when she returns, breathless, from her own apartment downstairs. “I was straightening Jasmine’s hair before we came up here, and I forgot to turn it off. Wow. That was close.”

Levine has wide blue eyes accentuated with sparkly eye shadow, and her voice is spiced with a sense of interested wonder. She wants to be a cosmetologist — she’s taken some classes — but for now she is just happy to be living on her own, and working the front desk at a gym in Century City.

Levine’s developmental delays are less obvious than those of her roommate, Jasmine Banayan, who has Down syndrome. Banayan is gregarious and warm and asserts herself as something of a leader among the dozen or so friends who live in a cluster of apartments in Westwood.

The group gets together every night to hang out at one or another of their homes, or to go out to dinner, and, on Friday nights, the five Jewish members of the group are regulars at Shabbat dinner and services at nearby UCLA Hillel.

All are participants in a parent-led experiment in independent living for adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities.

Today’s 20-somethings with disabilities have grown up at the vanguard of a successful mainstreaming model, and they and their parents now are determined to continue to break the mold, to live adult lives with high expectations, in keeping with the ideal that not only is there a place for them within mainstream society, but that they can contribute in meaningful and enriching ways.

While the impetus for change exists, needed funds won’t necessarily follow. Government budget cuts are endangering existing programs, and start-up costs for new programs can be prohibitive.

Story continues after the video.