Samples overcomes struggles to fulfill dream of graduation

If you have been around West Virginia Wesleyan College within the last 10 years, you have probably noticed James Samples.

A Buckhannon native, Samples has spent the past decade working on his business management degree. In addition to attending school part-time, Samples also works part-time at nTelos on Main Street. He has a contagious smile, an infectious fervor for life, and a big heart to match. So what is so different about Samples’ story? Perhaps it is the fact that he does it all from a wheelchair.

“When people first see me, they always see the chair,” Samples said. “If someone thinks you are different, you want to prove them wrong.”

After being diagnosed at 18 months with spinal muscular atrophy, noted by a mutation in the SMN1 gene, which affects the motor neurons, the nerve cells in the spinal cord that control the muscles of the rib cage and limbs, which are essential for breathing, swallowing, sitting and walking, Samples began steps toward stability. Because the disease is considered degenerative, Samples had no choice but to accept the situation, move forward and muster the courage to face a life that was doomed to be different from those of his peers.

As a senior at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Samples was sure he would not attend college. That is, until his guidance counselor, Dr. Sarah Stankas, put the idea in his head.

“I was not going to college,” commented Samples, “but my counselor really encouraged the idea. I knew Wesleyan was my only choice. Being a student has made me more independent, and the classes keep me thinking. If I had not come to Wesleyan, my life would be completely different.”

Samples has been diligently working toward a business management degree, taking two classes each semester for 10 years. His father, Brian, was instrumental in making sure Samples had a way to and from the campus each day for class.

Samples also noted the support of his mother, Tammy, and step-mother, Theresa, as beneficial and encouraging throughout this journey, as well. However, this semester will bring a close to this particular journey, as he will have completed enough credits to earn his bachelor’s degree and graduate in May.

“This final semester has felt really different,” stated Samples. “I feel I am ready.”

However, Samples’ journey at Wesleyan did not come without some struggles. When he began taking classes, Samples navigated the campus in a manual wheelchair. Having since upgraded to an electric chair, Samples says he can move better around campus and sometimes to work.

If continuing his educational journey was not enough, Samples has also been employed as a sales representative at nTelos, a national cellular service provider, in Buckhannon for three and a half years, consistently earning accolades from the company. In 2010, Samples received the coveted “We Inspire Loyalty” award and traveled to Marco Island in Florida as part of his winnings. This year, Samples again earned another trip, this time to the Dominican Republic, for winning the Circle of Excellence award. He will be taking the trip with his father, whom Samples cites as a major inspiration of his.

“I have definitely learned my work ethic from my dad,” Samples said. “He was raised on a farm, so he was always expected to be working in his down time. He was pretty impoverished, but he has worked his way up. If you start it, you have got to finish it.”

Samples’ work ethic helped him be named both the second top seller in the state and within the top five salespersons in the entire nTelos company.

“nTelos has always treated me well,” Samples said. “Even when the store was being reconstructed, Lori Meadows, nTelos store manager, made sure the new design would help improve my efficiency within the store.”

“James has a hunger for excellence and carries a can-do attitude,” stated Meadows. “Buckhannon nTelos modeled the new location to showcase his many strengths while working around some physical challenges. James’s professional achievements are award-winning. On a personal note, he has become one of my dearest friends. When I first saw him, my first thought was ‘I am glad I am not like that.’ After I met James, I thought, ‘I wish I was more like that.'”

With graduation upon him, Samples now has what he calls “The American Dream Philosophy,” noting determination and hope for the future to be the driving forces of his life.

“My philosophy is that you have to always find a way to advance yourself,” he said. “Even though I am done here soon, I will always be looking for ways to advance. With everything coming to a close here, I just have to set more goals for myself.”

With Samples continuing to find ways to better himself and improve his lot in life, he continues to have a fresh and uplifting outlook on life.

“It does not matter if you are the best, the brightest or the fastest,” he stated. “It is all about who wants it most. If you want something so much more than someone else and you are driven, you are going to be working twice as much. You can achieve anything if you work hard enough.”