DOUGLASVILLE — Samuel Alexander Armas is a miracle. He has overcome multiple obstacles to achieve success through his determination and steadfast faith. Samuel is a handsome young man who is graduating with honors from Alexander High School in Douglasville. He is headed to Auburn University with a Movelle Murdock Math Scholarship in hand and plans to play on the Tigers wheelchair basketball team.
Samuel was featured in the photo that shocked the world in 1999. Julie and Alex Armas, who are members of Ephesus Baptist Church in Winston, were told that their preborn baby had spina bifida. Refusing to accept abortion as a option, they decided to fight for their son’s life. Experimental pre-natal surgery was a possibility and at 21 weeks, Samuel was operated on in utero at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville.
A freelance photographer, Michael Clancy, was there that day and took a photo of Samuel’s little hand reaching through the incision in his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner, who was preforming the surgery.
Since that day Samuel has joined his parents in welcoming two younger brothers into the family: Ethan, 14, and Zachary, 12, who also has spina bifida.
Samuel has chosen to be a victor rather than a victim and his attitude has helped him overcome one obstacle after another. He stated, “I believe the word ‘disability’ is a mindset. You can do whatever you set your mind to; and thinking that you are unable to do something because of a disability is just an invalid excuse.
“I have met several people in my life who have not let their disability define them and they have gone on to do absolutely incredible things, which leads to powerful testimonies. That is what I strive to be like.”
High school has been a learning experience for Samuel in more ways that one. He explained, “The last four years have taught me who I am as a person and as a Christian; and I have learned a good number of lessons in high school. I have also met some incredible people who have impacted my life in ways that go beyond what words can say. The most challenging part of high school for me was balancing my academics with wheelchair basketball.”
For the uninitiated, wheelchair basketball is a rapidly growing sport with more than 100,000 participants. The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation is the governing body for this sport; and it is included in the Paralympic Games.
BlazeSports is one of the nation’s fastest growing and most successful youth wheelchair basketball programs; and Samuel has been a part of their Atlanta Jr. Hawks Wheelchair Basketball team. When a friend told Samuel about the team, he was skeptical at first, but he joined the Jr. Hawks and said, “I’ve never looked back since then.”
Eric Johnson, who played football at UCLA, is the coach of the Junior Wheelchair Hawks and led the team to the varsity division of the NWBA championship game in Louisville, KY earlier this year.
Johnson has stated, “I see my players in the chair, but I don’t see the chair. I see athletes. My passion is helping kids to get better in life, and it doesn’t matter if you’re able or disabled, black, white, green or orange.”
Samuel had stated that his experience playing under Johnson transcends sports. He remarked, “The impact that Coach Johnson has had on my life goes so much further than a sport could ever go. He has believed in me since the day we started working together and he understands me as a player more than anybody else I’ve ever met.
“The relationship that we have stretches to off the court as well as on it, and I plan on having that close relationship with him for a long time to come.”
Robb Taylor, the head coach of the wheelchair basketball team at Auburn, connected with Samuel when he went to their basketball camp during the summer of his junior year.
Samuel recalled, “Coach Taylor and I exchanged contact information and Auburn started to recruit me. After visiting the campus and giving it a great deal of thought and prayer, I believe the Lord is leading me to Auburn. Coach Taylor was able to offer me in-state tuition to play on the team.
“At Auburn I will major in Kinesiology, which is an exercise science. The technical definition of Kinesiology is ‘the study of movement.’ With that degree I will become an exercise physiologist, someone who analyzes an athlete’s movement while performing in order to help optimize his/her performance. I specifically want to work with adaptive athletes.”
The primary thing that has fueled Samuel’s determination and fortitude is his faith and walk with Christ. He became a Christian at age seven when he was in Vacation Bible School through the influence of his Sunday School teacher, Anita Stone.
Samuel added, “I have endured several trials and tests of my faith, but they have only made me stronger in my relationship with the Lord. Christ has really helped me with spina bifida because He has revealed to me just how much of a blessing it is if I use it for the right reasons.
“For example, I am exposed to a whole new community of disabled people that those without disabilities would never get to meet. So, I have multiple outlets to talk to people that most do not have. Over time, I have viewed spina bifida as more and more of a blessing and less of a hindrance. I completely credit God for that mindset because without Him, my mindset and lifestyle would likely be very different.”
To those who are facing physical challenges, Samuel exhorts, “Try to understand that there is a reason why you are experiencing these challenges. It is a part of a master plan that is bigger than any of us.
“So find the good in your circumstance. Don’t sit at home and count your hindrances, go out and turn those hindrances into blessings and use them for God’s glory. Regardless of the challenge, you can do anything you set your mind to do.”