Sam James has cerebral palsy after her brain was starved of oxygen as a baby. But she hasn’t let that stop her becoming a fitness instructor. EMMA DUNN reports AT JUST nine weeks old, Sam James stopped breathing.

She had turned blue when her mum found her and gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which saved her life.

However, the lack of oxygen to her brain for that short amount of time caused a neurological condition known as cerebral palsy, which affects movement.

The condition means Sam, now 34, has weakness in her right leg and left arm, and a slight speech impediment, but this hasn’t stopped her from reaching for her dreams.

In February, Sam qualified as a Zumba instructor. She has now been nominated for most inspirational instructor in the south and most outstanding support for activities for adults with additional or special needs at the What’s On 4 Me? awards.

“I am so lucky because I have got a second chance at life. Not many people get that chance – at nine weeks old I could have died,” she said.

“My mum brought me back – it wasn’t my time. I have got a second chance and I might as well enjoy it because you don’t know how short life can be. There is no point doing something you don’t enjoy.”

Sam, of Old Town, stopped breathing as a baby due to an infection.

Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the Wroughton Infant and Junior school pupil was always determined to be like the other children as she was growing up.

“I have always been very sporty and particularly enjoyed swimming,” said Sam, who also attended The Ridgeway School in Wroughton.

“I remember in PE sometimes the teacher would take me to one side to try to help me do it, but I would say I wanted to be part of the group. I told them I would just observe if I couldn’t do it and then join in when I could.

“There are little things even now that I wish I could do that I see my friends doing. I can’t ride a bike due to cerebral palsy and I would love to be a spinning instructor.

“I remember my friends all used to do dance classes. I went to a dance class but they put me in with kids four years younger than me. It wasn’t a nice feeling being eight years old and put with children who were four.

“Now, with my instructing, I remember how I felt when I couldn’t do things. I can see if there is someone who looks like they are struggling and I know how to help them.”

Sam, who went to Bath Spa university, worked as a senior administrator for an investment banking firm until she was made redundant in 2010.

She then worked as a receptionist at a veterinary surgery in Swindon, but was inspired to train as a fitness instructor in July 2012 after cracking a bone in her arm.

“I started physio, and my friend who was a personal trainer came up with a routine for me to do in the gym,” she said.

“After two weeks of doing the routine he designed for me, I could lift my arm right up. That’s when I realised the benefits that exercise can have.”

Sam’s friend helped her find a course based in Guildford, and she did her work placement at the Link Centre. She is now a qualified Level 3 gym instructor.

She enjoys it so much that she did courses in running Zumba, Zumba gold (a lower impact version), Zumba kids and boxercise classes earlier this year.

Now Sam works part-time at Commonweal School as a physical disabilities outreach worker. She also works on the health improvement team at Broome Manor Gym and covers Zumba and Zumba gold and Zumba kids lessons at the Haydon Centre. Her main Zumba class is in Pewsey.

Although Sam is a successful fitness instructor, she said she is aware people judge her because of her disability.

“Society has a viewpoint on disability and I want to prove it wrong. When people think I can’t do something it makes me more determined to actually do it. Even now, people think ‘can you really do that?’ “It’s not what they say, it’s their facial expression when I take my jacket off and they see my T-shirt that says instructor on it. By the time they are walking out at the end of the class though they are sweating and smiling.”

Sam said it is a great feeling helping people to get fit.

“I love it. I like inspiring people and Zumba is designed so anyone can do it. I am living proof that anyone can do it. If I can do it then other people haven’t got an excuse not to do it,” she said.

“When I have a class in front of me I feel a sense of achievement. I see them having fun and letting their hair down. They don’t realise they are exercising because it is so much fun.”


  • To sign up to one of Sam’s classes go to or


    What is cerebral palsy?

    Cerebral palsy is the general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination.

    Neurological conditions are caused by problems in the brain and nervous system.

    Specifically, cerebral palsy is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.

    The symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become apparent during the first three years of a child's life.

    The main symptoms are muscle stiffness or floppiness, muscle weakness, random and uncontrolled body movements, and balance and co-ordination problems These symptoms can affect different areas of the body and vary in severity from person to person. Some people will only have minor problems, whereas others will be severely disabled.