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  • Writer's pictureGabija Steponenaite

Disability is not an obstacle to playing football, finding love, and being happy

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Samantha Barnfield beat the odds of survival more than once. She came to the world three months ahead of her due date and weighing a little bit over a pound.

Her medical history has multiple life - altering diagnosis; nevertheless, Sam’s contagious laughter, fervent love for football, and ability to enjoy life inspires others. One thing she guards against is complaining and complainers for they steal the joy of life.

Sam has been working as a sales associate for the last 14 years.
Samantha was awarded “an employee of a quarter” for her friendliness and work ethic

The magic of the words

“Mommy, why my legs do not work?” Asked five-year-old Sam. “Because you are special,” the mother replied to her only child.

The words stuck.

Despite living with cerebral palsy, Samatha Barnfield (35) leads a busy and fulfilling life. She aims to leave the house every day: for work, for a visit to a shop, to a cinema or meet her mom and dad for lunch. She played football and cricket.

Sam successfully completed business, retail and administration training at Bournemouth and Poole College and currently works as a till operator at a global clothing company.

This year is special for her: in July, Sam and her partner of ten years, Phillip Herman (37), are getting married.

“My mother’s words made me a determined person,” said Sam while sipping a golden brown ale sitting in her wheelchair at her neighbourhood pub in Poole.

It seems like everyone knows Sam in the crowded pub: a server came by her to ask if she was all right, a neighbour gave a hug, and a friend waived from a distant table. Smiles and contagious laughter followed each greeting.

Fight for life from the first day

Sam was born at 27 weeks and weighed 1 lb. and 12 oz.
Sam was born at 27 weeks.

Sam was born at 27 weeks and weighed 1 lb. and 12 oz. She did not spend the first months of her life in a room filled with the lingering smell of warm milk and lying on soft flannels surrounded by plush toys.

Little Sam fought for her life in a sterile clear-glass paediatric incubator that looked like an icy capsule that sent a message of hope and fear. Doctors taped to her body sensors tracking blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature.

After two months spent in the incubator, Sam was transferred to Southampton Hospital's operating room, where doctors placed a shunt - a tube - on the right side of her brain. To this day, the shunt drains cerebrospinal fluid from her skull and redirects it to another location in the body where it gets reabsorbed.

When her parents were getting ready to welcome their little girl home, just a few days before her release from the hospital, their phone rang at midnight. A tired but alert voice at the another end of the receiver, directed Sam’s mom and dad to rush to the Poole hospital: Sam’s condition was deteriorating. “It was meningitis,” her parents were told.

Infection and a bleed to her brain left Sam with Cerebral palsy: damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture.

“I am not angry at my destiny, but I get frustrated when I can’t do simple tasks on my own: stand up, sit down, walk, dress up, or shower. My legs feel like marshmallows: soft and achy,” Sam explained, “but there is no point in complaining since I can’t change anything.”

Playing football I feel free

Sam was busy at Victoria Education Centre, a school for children with special needs; she played cricket and attended athletic sessions.
Sam was adamant about keeping up with her peers at play

When Sam was little, she was adamant about keeping up with her peers at play. While other children ran around, Sam kept crawling with all her might.

“My knees were always bruised,” she laughed, “I wanted to be like my friends without disabilities and do things together. I was lucky. They never used my disability to leave me out of any activities.”

Sam was busy at Victoria Education Centre, a school for children with special needs; she played cricket and attended athletic sessions.

But her greatest passion was football. “I was a striker, and my number was 15. I love scoring goals,” said Sam as she laughed.

During one match, she kicked the ball a bit too hard. “I “snapped” my ankle.

The doctors told me if I kicked it one more time, I might snap my foot away. It was my last game. It kills me. I can’t play it anymore. Playing football, I felt free,” said Sam.

Active days create a meaningful life

When Sam graduated from high school, she continued her education in business, retail and administration training at Bournemouth and Poole College. Her first job was at a Woolworth convenience store.

Sam's greatest passion was football.  At school team, she was a striker, and her number was 15.
Sam loves playing and watching football

In 2009, a global clothing retail store Primark hired her. On weekdays, one could hear Sam’s voice echoing through the popular clothing store when she asks customers to step towards her till: “Next, down at the very end!”

She has been working as a sales associate for the last 14 years. “I enjoy its formal and structured business model. I love my colleagues and being a part of the team,” said Sam.

She was recognised with “an employee of a quarter” award for her friendliness and work ethic.

Every day, her mom, dad or fiancé wheel her into the shop, and Sam starts her journeyer up to the top floor to the staff changing rooms.

On her way, she makes a few stops to rest by the mannequins and greet her colleagues. “Hey Sam! How are you, Sam?” Coworkers wave at her from a distance. Sam’s positive attitude, calm demeanour uplifts the spirits of those who spend shifts folding clothes, serving customers at the tills, or pushing rails with new merchandise.

A colleague meets her at the changing room once she is ready to start a shift. They both start a journey to the tills: a coworker carries a chair in case Sam’s legs give up and she needs to sit down. Sam carefully puts one foot in front of the other as she feels like “thousands of needles are piercing her legs.”

“Com-on, legs” Sam sometimes says, gripping her three-weal red walker while trying to stand up and start a journey. A simple journey that takes her colleagues to do in two minutes takes ten minutes for Sam. She starts her shift sitting on her grey chair by the tills.

“I love interacting with people. Most of the time,” Sam laughs.

She remembers a day, when a customer stuck a note on her tills warning other customers: “Avoid her. She is very slow.”

“It hurts, but my mom taught me not to dwell on difficulties,” Sam said, “I got used to people looking at me. In the past, it made me upset,” she said.

Sam admitted she would rather explain her condition than endure whisperings behind her back. “There are kindhearted people who want to understand my condition, and I do not mind explaining it,” Sam said.

The couple agreed that the secret to their loving and lasting relationship is rooted in their common interests.
From their first meeting Sam and Phil felt like they know each other for a long time

Meeting of the soulmates

Sam and Phil met on a dating site ten years ago. For a couple of months they both exchanged messages and agreed to meet. “I did not revealed right away that I have a cerebral palsy. People stop writing once they learn you have a disability,” she said.

Sam had built up the courage to tell Phil about her condition a couple of days before the meeting, and despite being taken aback, Phil came to meet her at The Moon in the Square pub in Bournemouth. “We started talking and never stopped,” Sam remembers the immediate spark.

After a few dates, they became a couple. “Her positivity is infectious,” said Phil. Nowadays, their average work-day starts at 5:30 am. Phil helps Sam to get up and get ready for work. Then he leaves for Bournemouth Hospital, where he works as a cleaner. After he completes his shift, he assist Sam to go to her work. They spend short evenings either watching movies or catching up with family and friends.

“Phil gives me positivity and helps me to remain active. He supports me and my aspirations,” Sam said.

Samantha Banfield got married in July of 2023.
2023 was a very special year for Sam and Phil

“I love her laughter the most,” said Phil looking at Sam.

The couple agreed that the secret to their loving and lasting relationship is rooted in their common interests. They love football and enjoy going for walks, watching cinema, or eating ice-cream. They like experiencing new things and recently marked bowling off their “to try” list.

2023 was a special year for the couple. They exchanged vows in July.

Complains are a waste of life

Sam, who beat the odds of surviving as a premature baby, and, despite her disability, enjoys an active life, confessed: she has difficulty tolerating complainers. “If you can change nothing, what is the point of complaining?” she shrugs.

Her determination stems from her wish to prove the opposite to those who doubt her abilities. “I want people to know that I live a happy life. Of course, like everyone, I have my frustrations, but I do not dwell on them.”

She does not take all the credit for her achievements and positive outlook in life. “Being surrounded by supportive people helps me to stay positive,” she said.

Sam has a very close connection with her parents (images above) mom Kath and dad Frank: they enjoy daily chats, going for lunch in town or shopping together. Sam holds their advice close to her heart and to remembers that there's always someone who faces greater challenges.

All images are from Samantha's personal archives.

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