There are some young football players in Orlando, Fla., who are in for quite a surprise. In the coming weeks, when they line up against Timber Creek High School’s freshman team, they’ll see a gangly defensive tackle named Sam Monarch and snicker because all they’ll see is that his right arm is an underdeveloped stub and, on his left hand, there are just three misshaped fingers.
What they can’t see is that already Sam Monarch is twice the man that any of them aspire to be. He has the heart of a lion after being born in Russia and quickly discarded into a poor orphanage because of his deformities.. And the opposing players cannot possibly know that two of his four siblings have delicately taught him more about life than any other 15-year-old can possibly know – his 10-year-old sister Alexia has Down’s syndrome and his brother Austin, also 10, is stricken with cystic fibrosis.
So these kids on the other team picture young Sam as a cupcake, right? They cannot know that, quite to the contrary, he is a terror on the field, that his heart and his intensity and his quiet leadership is so stirring there is no room for failure, excuses, or not doing his dead-level best until the end of every whistle.
Image it – 15 years old and living life large because two wonderful people in Florida heard about a kid in Russia who was born with amniotic band syndrome, looked at one another, and said, “So what?” Thomas Monarch and his wife brought Sam to the United States on his first birthday and, last Thursday, he started at defensive tackle for the mighty Wolves.
“I really don’t know what it means to have a right hand. So if you don’t grow up with something, you don’t know how to use it,” he told the Orlando Sentinel but – for my money – the writer missed the best part of the story.
I’m thinking the adopted Sam has lucked out, not with just the greatest parents in the world today but also because I am dead certain that Austin with his cystic fibrosis and Alexia with her Downs have unknowingly taught their older brother about compassion, tenderness and a family-based teamwork that will yield boundless benefits both on and off the football field.
Try this: the other day it began raining at football practice so frosh coach Tim Weems rushed his players inside and ordered they do push-ups. “I didn’t even think about Sam,” he later told writer Alicia DelGallo. “When I looked over at him, he had his short arm on the mat and was doing pushups with his left arm. I knew right then there was never going to be a problem.”
Sam didn’t play organized football until last year when he finally talked his dad into letting him try out for the Pop Warner team. “When Samuel first gets on the field, they (coaches) have reservations, but, after the first practice, there are no reservations. He’s sacked quarterbacks, tackled running backs and recovered fumbles.”
One teammate and close friend, Preston Samoden, has played with Sam since the second grade. “He’s motivated. This is high school. A lot of people are bigger and better but Sam (5-9, 170) is already one of the best players. He doesn’t let anybody stop him,” said Preston, “so I try not to let anybody stop me.”
Another teammate, Kia Smith, was sacked by Monarch in youth football before they started playing together at Timber Creek. “I couldn’t touch the ball without him being in my face … He doesn’t care about his arm … his intensity is really high.”
Maybe he learned that from his adoptive dad. “My first thought when I heard about (his deformities) was ‘So what!’ I knew from the minute we heard about him he was the boy for us,” said his dad but Sam described it better: “I’d say to all young athletes with my disability – or any disability – that you should do your best. Don’t let anybody put you down ‘cause you are not really different. We all have challenges.”
How about that? Sam Monarch says we all have challenges. He learned about it from Alexia and Austin. He learned to eat with a fork. He learned to tie his shoes. He learned to do all sorts of things because, if you’ve never had a right hand, you don’t really miss it. Now he’s playing football, starting at tackle for the Timber Creek Wolves.
Isn’t it wonderful what a 15-year-old can teach us if we’ll just listen? And isn’t it a bit telling that it isn’t until we know Sam’s secret that we are so enthralled by what he has to say? Asked what he thought his opponents might do when they first see him, Sam laughed, “I hope they’re scared!
“I hope my teammates’ reactions, and I hope the other team’s reactions, are they’ll just treat me like any other guy – with two hands or no hands – because, really, that doesn’t slow me down.”