SPOKANE, Wash. -- Back in February, KREM 2 News brought you the story of Gonzaga Prep senior Sam Dowd, an inspirational young student athlete who stands out for his positive attitude and determination in the face of great difficulty. On the verge of graduation, Sam is reflecting on the inspiration he gained from a former Gonzaga Prep grad.
Unlike most of his classmates, there was a time Dowd considered a diploma was beyond his reach.
"My sophomore year, my freshman year, I really didn't think I was going to be graduating high school," said Sam.
When he was just 11-years-old, Sam was abandoned by his parents in Tacoma. For four years, he bounced around, staying wherever friends would give him a place to lay his head. Sometimes, Sam slept on the streets.
"I can't believe I got through that," said Dowd.
Since moving to Spokane three years ago, Gonzaga Prep teachers have focused on helping Sam get back up to speed in the classroom.
"I know how to study on my own now and prepare for tests," said Dowd.
Sam’s G-Prep football coach also introduced him to a man Sam now calls his hero, former G-Prep, WSU and NFL standout Steve Gleason.
"I look up to him a lot," Sam said.
Gleason suffers from terminal ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) with profound optimism.
Sam encounters Steve's inspirational messages almost daily on signs that hang in classrooms, on the wrists of his teammates, and through Steve's “no white flags” mantra Sam and teammates would yell in huddles.
It is a mantra Sam now understands with deeper meaning.
"Just never give up,” said Sam, “and have that fight in you that you're going to be successful and this is not the end."
READ: Steve Gleason recovers quickly after tracheotomy
Steve's unwavering optimism snapped into clearer focus when Sam and three football teammates got to visit Steve in Sandpoint last summer.
"And we see rivers running around and we met his wife. What a positive attitude," said Sam.
Sam told Steve a bit about the trials he has already traversed in his young life. Through their conversation, Sam realized another of Steve's mottos is more than mere words.
"Awesome ain't easy,” said Sam. “And it’s not. You fight, you fight, [and] you keep getting knocked down. Gleason, for example, He's battling ALS and he's not giving up. He keeps fighting."
Sam, too, fought to earn what he now calls a blessed life.
In late August, he'll head to Montana's Carroll College on a basketball scholarship.
He admits he's a little nervous, but when those nerves creep in, Sam will lean on some special advice delivered to him directly by Steve.
"Enjoy life and enjoy every moment of it, and be in the moment because you're never going to have that moment again," Sam recalled.
To learn more about our Project Inspire campaign, which includes telling inspirational stories like Sam’s, click here.