USF grad student fighting disease, shares inspiring message

By Erin Maloney, Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, September 13, 2015

A new graduate student at University of South Florida is sharing an inspiring message with classmates as he fights a debilitating disease.

Sam Bridgman, 24, is living with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a neurological disease that causes loss of coordination from the toes to the fingertips. The progressive disease can also cause heart failure and premature death.

Bridgman made headlines in 2013 when he ditched his wheelchair and walked across the stage to receive his undergraduate diploma at the University of Portland.

Bridgman was diagnosed when he was 15. Symptoms started when he was 12, and he noticed them most while playing the sports he loved.

“I would be running into the outfield to catch fly balls, and I couldn’t track the baseball. I would slip and fall,” Bridgman said.

After he was diagnosed, the then-teenager could still walk. But once he hit college, the wheelchair was a must.

“I don’t think I fully wrapped my mind around what was going to happen,” Bridgman said.

But the disease won’t keep Bridgman from being involved in sports. He chose USF’s MBA program in Sports and Entertainment Management to realize his dream of one day working for a professional sports team. He already has an internship with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Working in sports would be a way to keep playing those sports,” Bridgman said.

In between his course work and internship, Bridgman is planning to continue to raise money and awareness for Friedreich’s Ataxia.

“It’s something we need to raise awareness for. I want to create hope for families that don’t have any when their child is first diagnosed,” Bridgman said.

Bridgman says it wasn’t only the MBA program that drew him to USF. There is also a close-knit community in the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) that he wants to be even more involved in.

“I also want to join a few drug trials if it’s possible in my time at USF,” Bridgman said. Although, he says, it will depend on his school work.

Bridgman will officially attend his first fundraiser as a student at USF when FARA hosts The Energy Ball on Sept 19.

Bridgman plans to take advantage of every single moment in the 2 year program.

As for graduation at the Sun Dome?

Don’t be surprised if he walks again for his diploma.

“It’s something I’ve definitely thought about,” Bridgman said.