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January 4, 2020

Introducing Sam: A Tampa Bay Native with Down Syndrome Inspires in Poignant Documentary

By Maggie Rodriguez

At Villagio Cinemas in Carrollwood, a new movie captivates the audience. Not a blockbuster. No big-name actors. But the hero of this film is every bit a star— a Tampa Bay native with charisma to spare and a story worthy of the big screen. Sam Piazza’s underdog-beating-the-odds tale stands out from so many that have been told before for many reasons.

Because he has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Because he was dealt a hand at birth that would lead most people to discount him as “less than.”

Because most of us, even with half of Sam’s hurdles in our way, could not accomplish what he has: becoming a stand-out athlete, homecoming king, and spokesperson for a national organization.

Because Sam has Down’s syndrome.

“I want people to see that there are a lot of people with disabilities who are truly a gift with extraordinary abilities and different talents,” the 29-year-old tells us when we meet to talk about his documentary film, “Because of Sam.” He says the real hero of the movie is his mother, who raised him with the philosophy he lives by: no limits. Ruth Piazza remembers vividly what she told Sam’s two older siblings the day he was born: “‘He’s a special little brother. He has Down syndrome, but we’re not going to treat him any different.’ We decided to just give him the same experiences as our other children,” she adds, “and in turn, his sister and brother taught their friends to treat him like every other kid.”

But it soon became evident that Sam wasn’t like every other kid. He had a natural confidence, magnetic personality and killer smile that won over everyone he met. As a child, he was chosen as a poster boy and spokesperson for a national United Way campaign. At Gaither High School in Northdale, he made the basketball team, was voted Homecoming King and was featured in a newspaper article that caught the attention of local filmmaker Renee Warmack. She set out to tell Sam’s story on film but had to shelve the project almost immediately. “I didn’t have the money,” Warmack recalls. Eight years later, fueled by the conviction that “getting his message out to the world was important,” Warmack launched an aggressive fundraising campaign and finished the movie.

The end result is a moving story that penetrates the heart, imprints on the brain and lingers long after the credits roll— a lesson for us all about the possibility of success and happiness in the face of overwhelming struggle.

“It was very challenging growing up with Down syndrome,” Sam tells us. “I had to go through a lot of barriers and people put limits on me, but I broke out of it. Now, I have a job and I have truly amazing friends and family who are my life support and a girlfriend who I hope will be my wife.”

As 2020 kicks off, Sam Piazza has big plans for the new year and the new decade: proposing to his girlfriend, climbing the ranks at PDQ, where he works full time, and continuing to spread his message on a large scale thanks to the filmmaker who found the drive and determination to tell an important story… because of Sam.

To book a screening of “Because of Sam”, visit Becauseofsamthemovie.com

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