Despite being physically challenged, “I can’t do it” is a response that Solon 16-year-old Sam Granoff seldom seems to utter.
Although he could not walk until he was nearly 9 years old, and still must use a walker to stand up and walk for extended periods of time, Sam was presented his yellow belt Dec. 7 at Twinsburg Karate Institute. He previously earned his orange belt.
According to his mom Leslie, it was a martial arts instructor who got Sam to take his first steps, and since 2015 he has trained under Twinsburg KI owner Reggie Brown.
“He is an amazing young man,” said Brown. “He wants to do what other kids do, and wants other kids to recognize what he can do. Although it takes every ounce of effort for him to take steps, he never complains and he has tremendous concentration.”
Sam, who is a sophomore at Solon High, has completed two katas, which are systems of basic body positioning and movement exercises. Brown said he has learned kicking and punching, does sit-ups and pull-ups and has learned how to fall without getting hurt.
“We tell other students to think about Sammy when they complain that something is too hard to do,” said Brown. “Although it is very hard for him, he has mastered a lot of the techniques we’ve taught him, plus other things in life.”
“I love karate because it helps me with my balance,” said Sam. “Going to karate makes me feel stronger. It’s great to learn how to defend myself if a bad guy comes attacking me.
“I feel nervous about coming to class at the karate Institute sometimes, but as soon as I know what I’m doing I do not feel nervous anymore. The other kids make me feel that I belong there and fit in.”
A few months later, doctors determined his eyes were working independently of each other, necessitating a series of surgeries to help him straighten his eye muscles.
Various forms of therapy were tried in Sam’s early years, and when he turned 3 his parents called on a neurogeneticist to help. It was discovered that Sam’s cerebellum was smaller than normal.
It wasn’t until he was 4 years old that he began to talk, and then only in one-syllable words. He still could not walk at that point.
At age 7, karate became a part of Sam’s life. His 4-year-old brother began taking taekwondo classes, and one day the owner of the dojo asked Sam whether he would like to participate.
Leslie told the instructor: “Are you serious? You know he can’t stand, let alone walk. That’s very sweet of you, but it’s not possible.”
The sensei went into a back room and returned with a gi (martial arts uniform). He handed it to Sam and told him when he was ready to start learning, just come back wearing the gi.
“I never thought I’d see that, and the instructor and I started to cry. After about a year, we stopped going to the dojo, but I never forgot how it helped Sam focus on his body and learn to control his core.”
“It was a long, slow process, but he did all this in a determined fashion, never complaining and always trying and smiling,” said his mom.
Fast forward to 2015, when 14-year-old Sam, his younger brother and his mom ended up at Twinsburg KI to take martial arts classes.
“He began kicking, blocking and striking, did push-ups, sit-ups, squats and planks, grappled and sparred and learned to walk backwards and jump,” said Leslie. “Eventually, he learned his first kata, then earned his orange belt.
“He has performed his kata at tournaments and holiday parties, and now has learned a second kata, plus series and escapes. His need for assistance has decreased as his strength and coordination improved.”
Leslie, who has three other children, said Sam doesn’t shy away from a challenge and loves other sports, too. He participates in Solon’s Blue Ribbon and Youth Challenge programs for youngsters with physical impairments.
He loves to swim, bowl and cook, is learning to box and says he wants to try out for Solon’s varsity baseball team in the spring.
“He’s a very intelligent teenager with a good sense of humor,” said Brown. Leslie describes him as “the happiest and most social kid I know.” She said he loves cars, and although it’s probably not feasible, he would like to work as a bus driver some day.
“I think he’ll eventually work in some kind of social-related position where he can interact with people,” she said.
ABOUT TWINSBURG KI
Brown, who lives in Hiram, said he currently has 84 students, but has worked with up to 100 at a time. The dojo has two other part-time instructors, and Brown calls them and the students “a very closeknit group.”
Brown, who worked for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for 30 years, has competed in and taught martial arts since 1987, and started a martial arts school in 2009, then moved to his present location in 2008. “I really enjoy the rewards of teaching martial arts,” he said.
“We have some good people here. I’m just trying to grow the school and teach kids about focus, self-control, discipline and skills that they can use in all phases of life.”
Brown said a teacher at Wilcox School once told him the KI students are some of the best-behaved she has taught. “I was very proud to hear that,” he noted.