One of the first words you hear from Sam Cawthorn, motivational speaker and self-help author, is “kairos” — an ancient Greek term that means “a moment within a moment of drastic change, a moment that completely transforms your life”. It is a word Sam holds close to his heart; a word that defines him.
Sam’s kairos came when he fell asleep on the steering wheel while driving down a highway in Australia. His car collided head-on with a speeding truck. “I was 26, at the prime of my life and doing all kinds of things. I had my dance studio, I would take singing classes and I had a full-time job as a youth futurist with the federal government. On the other hand, I had my wife and two daughters. And then suddenly I die in a car accident!” smiled Sam, gently shocking the audience at an interactive session presented by the Lions Club of Howrah and The Advertising Club and partnered by The Telegraph at The Park recently.
It’s not often that a man comes back from the dead and lives to tell the tale but Sam is one of those miracle men. His unique story of “overcoming adversity” floored the gathering. “Yes, I was pronounced dead by paramedics when my heart stopped for three-and-a-half minutes but they managed to resuscitate me,” said Sam, recalling his last right-handshake with a friend after a hearty meal at KFC.
On life support for a week, in hospital for five months and in a wheelchair for a year, Sam, now 33, and without his right arm and right leg, is all about ability, not disability.
He travels across continents, motivates corporates and youngsters, has shared the stage with Bill Clinton, put Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, in “therapy” when he left his bionic arm dangling in his hand during a handshake and even plays the guitar with one hand. “My own story of what I call bouncing forward, not bouncing back, helps me teach people they can overcome their own issues, problems and burdens. It’s all about a decision, not a condition, be it physical, emotional or financial,” said Sam.
Born of a Bengali mother and a Scottish father and raised in Tasmania, Sam, who now lives in Sydney, had never been to Calcutta until three-and-a-half years ago when he made a trip that had him “completely blown away”.
“It was never my dream to do charity work. But that was again a kairos moment for me and I had this craving to do something to add value to the next generation. So, now we do a lot of work here with project offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Agra and Calcutta,” said Sam, who has adopted the Sonnamucki Santal Primary School, 250km from Calcutta.
The school, that had no building or writing equipment, now houses around 150 primary school students from nearby villages. “We’re about to start a green school modelled on one in Bali. We’re trying to rehabilitate young kids with disability,” said Sam, who earned the title of Young Australian of the Year in 2009.