Sam GrewePara Track & FieldNews

Sam Grewe Strives For Greater Heights, On and Off The Track

by Brian Pinelli

Sam Grewe celebrates after winning the men's high jump T63 finals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 31, 2021 in Tokyo. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Paralympic high jump champion Sam Grewe believes that the “sky is the limit” in terms of both his athletic craft and the future development of prosthetics.

The 25-year-old right leg amputee and medical student once again overcame adversity leaping to a high jump T63 gold medal while competing in atrocious, rainy conditions at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Grewe weathered the storm to deliver a clutch performance clearing both 1.86m (6ft-1 ¼) and 1.88m (6ft-2) on his third and final attempts to secure gold.

“It was one of the most bizarre day of jumps that I can remember – it was a torrential downpour, like a monsoon, and it was quite slippery, obviously though the same conditions for everyone,” Grewe tells Team USA.

“Having to hit those third attempt jumps and how mental everything is with the immediate feedback of seeing the bar falling off two times before, it is easy to get caught up in the emotions of failure. Being able to tap into my emotions and recalibrate before every jump was very important.”

After executing a textbook 1.88m gold medal clinching jump, Grewe pointed at the camera and exclaimed, "That’s what we do!" – his intensity and emotion palpable. The Indiana native outjumped his rival from India, Mariyappan Thangavelu, who had previously won gold to Grewe’s silver at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. 

Also, a three-time world champion (2015, 2017 and 2019), the moment was the pinnacle of Grewe’s athletic career.

In 2011, Grewe was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and underwent 21 sessions of chemotherapy to treat the disease. He chose to have his right leg amputated through a rare procedure called rotationplasty, a decision that would ultimately improve his probability of remaining physically active. 

“It was an extremely difficult to decision to make as a 12-year-old to amputate my leg, but the procedure gave me the opportunity to return to sports and that wasn’t going to be offered if I kept my leg, due to how fragile the knee joint replacement would have been,” Grewe explained.

(L-R) Sam Grewe and his fiancé, Mady, pose for a picture together. (Photo by Photo courtesy of Sam Grewe)

The 25-year-old Para athlete is currently balancing track and field and medical school, soon to be entering his fourth year at the University of Michigan.

Grewe will be pursuing studies in physical medicine and rehabilitation, or PM&R, a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to people with physical impairments or disabilities. It focuses on improving orthotics and prosthetics, sports medicine and interventional pain, all of which can aptly be applied directly to adaptive sports.

“I’m not sure yet what my end goal is because there are many different settings that I can work in with a PM&R residency program, but I’m very excited,” Grewe said. “I’ll be applying with my fiancé, Mady, who is also in medical school and will be applying for Anesthesia.” 

Grewe is intrigued by related studies of biomedical engineering, especially as it relates toward improving adaptive sport, and in his case, achieving greater heights.

“We can pretty closely identify where there is room for improvements or meeting athletes where they’re at, so that’s definitely a goal of mine,” says the determined Para athlete. “For example, with high jump my blade has a split toe, so when I’m running a curve and leaning quite a bit that prevents me from slipping and losing traction.”

Grewe believes that there is untapped potential in terms of the development of cutting-edge, highly-engineered prosthetics in order to accelerate athletic performances and overall quality of life. Essentially, thinking out of the box, as one former high jumper named Dick Fosbury became revered for, albeit in a different realm.

“There are many opportunities to improve so many different things and while there are always great engineers to address these things, I’m hoping coming at it from the perspective of a doctor and with medical training, I can offer further insight into the full picture,” Grewe says.

The topic – which Grewe admits is one of his favorites – quickly becomes a complex and fascinating discussion.

“We are now reaching a point where folks, with their prosthetics or adaptive technology, are competing at an equal or higher level than able-bodied folks.

“There is absolutely no reason to believe that they won’t continue to improve in the future as technology significantly improve – in ten years from now, for example, we might see someone (with a prosthetic) long jumping 30 feet.

“In high jump, I’m confident someone will figure out how to use a blade to jump higher vertically and they’ll get off the ground that way – as an innovator just like Fosbury,” Grewe said. 

“It’s so cool to be going into a field involved with stuff like that.”

Sam Grewe competing during the men's high jump T63 finals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 31, 2021 in Tokyo. (Photo by Getty Images)

Grewe unofficially retired from athletics following his success in Tokyo, but eventually opted to return and bid ‘Au revoir’ in the French capital. 

“Ultimately, I found as Paris approached that I wasn’t ready to step away entirely and felt that I owed it to myself to have one last push, and that’s where I’m at now,” Grewe said.

The proud Notre Dame graduate recently only returned to competition at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, California. He is currently training with the University of Michigan Adaptive Sports and Fitness program, usually after a tiring day working at the hospital or clinic.

Grewe will seek to defend his high jump T63 gold medal at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024. His toughest competition will come from a deep squad from India and 18-year-old Californian Ezra Frech, who emerged as the new star of high jump T63.

“Ezra beat my world record last year and is jumping extremely high, so he is definitely going to be the No. 1 seed coming into the competition,” said Grewe, about the teenager who he has mentored, inspiring him to become a fellow world champion.

In Paris, as has proven to be true with all of Grewe’s lofty pursuits – the sky is the limit.