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A tribute to my mate Samuel Gibson - and what we can learn from this great man

Samuels legacy

In honour of our Running Hot Coaching family member and our dear friend Samuel Peter Gibson who died just this week I wanted to write a blog about what he stood for, what lessons we can learn from his life, his attitude and how we can follow in his footsteps. 

Samuel Gibson was a great man. Small in stature at less than a metre tall, Samuel was born with Brittle bone disease, a crippling disease that would see him break so many bones in his lifetime that he had lost count. Because of this disease he couldnt walk, was very fragile and never grew to full height but Samuel lived an extremely full life.

He tragically died this week while taking part in a half marathon which he was using to train for a 300km ultra marathon that he, Neil Wagstaff, Haisley O’Leary and myself were preparing for. A mission which was Samuels brain child, a mission to raise money for a little Christchurch Boy, Ryuki who has been born with the same cruel disease.

I met Samuel only two years ago while I was doing a speaking tour. One night I was speaking in Napier and there in the huge auditorium I spoke to a crowd but one man caught my attention, Samuel. He caught my attention for two reasons, one he was beaming at me all the way through my speech and two he looked very different in fact the smallest man I had ever seen and I decided I wanted to know his story. So after the speech I went down and met him and we hit it off immediately. He was telling me how amazing I was with what I had done and the whole time I was looking at him and hearing his story and thinking, mate, I am nothing compared to you and your attitude. 

His positivity and the happiness that radiated out of him was contagious and I remember thinking wow, I just met someone incredible. 

One sentence he said struck a chord in particular with me, he said “Lisa if you ever want a little mate to roll alongside you while you are doing your crazy adventures, I am your man, I would love the chance to do something with you.”

I was gobsmacked and had a wee giggle and thought, mate I love your attitude. 

Weeks then went by and I couldnt stop thinking about this bloke and so one day I rang him up and said were you serious, are you keen to do something and immediately he said, absolutely and so a friendship was born. We started discussing possible crazy scenarios, I knew it would take a while to work on ideas but eventually Samuel came to me with a plan. 

He had heard about little Ryuki and wanted to raise money to help his parents make all the renovations needed for someone with the difficulties he was going to have. Samuel had told me over and again just how lucky he had been when he was born that his parents didn’t just put him in an institution as was the way back then but fought to bring him up as normal as possible and to just let him be a part of the world. He praised his parents for the sacrifices they made and how they had given him every chance at a great life and he wanted to make sure that little Ryuki had the same chances. 

Samuels plan was for the four of us, one in a wheelchair and the others running would complete the Alps to ocean cycle train from Mt Cook to Oamaru, 300km in 5 days to raise money for Ryuki and awareness for Brittle Bones. This was a huge challenge for us all, for us the runners of course this was no mean feat but for Samuel the challenge was huge, his fragile body would have to withstand being out on rough trails for up to 10 to 12 hours a day if necessary for five straight days, rain or shine or snow or sleet. But he was super excited to be taking on the challenge because he wanted adventure, he wanted to concentrate on the things he could do, the limits he could push and not what he couldnt. So Neil got Samuel in his gym and started preparing his body for the challenge while Samuel got down to the huge logistical planning of doing an expedition like this, liasing with sponsors, developing proposals, marketing plans, fund raising, media work etc. He was project lead as I said to him I can guide you on this route, having done it many times for my missions but I haven’t got the time to organise it all so he took on the mantle and was on fire for the job.

Months of planning and preparing went into the mission and Samuel was making it all happen and we, the other three were trying to prepare our bodies. 

Then disaster struck us, our dear Samuel was taken out in a tragic accident during the half marathon, falling from his chair and hitting his head. We don’t yet know how or why it happened, he was a master in his chair and tore around town all day in it, every day and we don’t know how or what happened but it was his time and now we are all left bereft and grieving and shocked. He left behind his entire family including his wife Jen and their two little girls Rosa and Isabelle. 

I cant make sense of this loss, there is no justice in this world. A man who had been through so much, who was just hitting his stride and living and loving life to the full and influencing and helping others everywhere he went, has been taken from us at the age of 39. 

We want people to take away some of the lessons Samuel has taught us though and we want his life to go on influencing and helping others so I wanted to talk about his attitude, his life philosophy and the very way he perceived himself and this disease because it will help us in our lives, when we face troubles to get through them, to overcome them, to overcome our own vanity, to overcome our lack of confidence or self esteem. In short give us a new perspective on what we can achieve.

Samuel stood for 

1. Positivity - his outlook on life was the glass is half full not half empty. In every obstacle he looked for the positive silver lining. 

He said in an interview on breakfast TV. I always thoughts as a child that i was the luckiest boy on earth. Why you might ask, when you have such a debilitating disease? His answer, because I was born in New Zealand, a beautiful, peaceful country. I was born into a loving family and I was born in an age when the technology was available to me to be able to live a full life. Instead of looking at what was wrong he looked at what was right. Samuel had no chip on his shoulder because of his lot in life. 

2. He had an attitude of gratitude. I never once heard Samuel complain about anything. Everything was always seen through the eyes of someone who was grateful for all his blessings. How many of us moan about not being this or having that. By daily reminding ourselves of the blessings in our lives, we condition ourselves to have a more positive outlook. Even in the most difficult of situations there is usually something to be grateful for. 

3. He saw only what he could do, not what he couldn’t do. Samuel was an adventurer. He took life by the horns and found ways to get out into nature to be involved in sports and fought for his right to take part. In fact he died doing that very thing. He couldn’t run but he could roll, he could be a part of the race. He was an accomplished sailor. He customised his yacht so he could sail alone and crossed the Cook Strait powered only by his arms and his skills. He wanted to ski down a mountain so he found a guide who would escort him and he did it. He risked injuries and failure but he was out there doing it, somehow, anyhow. So many people I know think “oh I could never do that or this” ask yourself is it true or is it just in the too hard basket? How much do you want something? Where there is a will there is a way. It may involve comromise, it may require outside help, it may be mindblowingly difficult but by persevering he overcame the odds in everything he did from having children to being a business man to being an adventurer. 

4. He ignored the imposed limitations. Doctors, society, family and friends often tell us we cant do things. Only yesterday I heard of a lady who wanted to run a marathon at the age of 55 but the doctor poohooed her and told her she was too old. What a load of rubbish. Again and again such stories surface and I have experienced them often enough and Samuel must have had it daily. But he made his own mind up about what he could or couldn’t do and wasn’t put off by others opinions. 

5. He was humble and had no idea of his own greatness. He was always generous and positive to others and put others before himself. In working on our project to run for Ryuki I witnessed time and again his selfless attitude, his willingness to give more than he ever took.

6. He was passionate about his life, his projects, his beliefs and that passion bubbled over in enthusiasm that was contagious. When someone is so passionate about something, they are powerful because they can inspire others to help, to give, to change. 

7. He had the uncanny ability despite looking so different and being confined to a wheelchair, to make you forget that he was so called disabled. Spend half an hour in his company and the wheelchair guy disappeared and an amazing man was all you saw. 

He overcame prejudices in that way. He expected to be treated normally and was. He appeared to have no confidence issues or self esteem issues maybe he had overcome them earlier I don’t know but I know he never seemed to care about what others thought, not in an arrogant way but in the way of a person who knows their worth. 

Where many of us moan about our fat legs, or lack of muscles or about looking old, are too shy to go out exercising in case people see us or we think perhaps we are too dumb to try that job or learn that skill. All these things were secondary to him. He was judged not by the way he looked but by who he was and that is no mean feat for someone who is less than a metre tall. 

Samuel was a role model for me. A reminder to treasure what is real, what is important in our world. To value and respect people for who they are. To be the agent of change. To fight for the underdog. To ignore the limitations. To live life to the full. 

We will miss you our friend. 

If you would like to donate to the project Samuel and our team were working on before he died, raising money for little Ryuki who has the same disease. Please go to this link https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/ryukiwithoi