It was small. It had wheels, and it belonged to his older brother.
At age 4, Sam Sneed hopped onto his brother's first Fisher Price skateboard and never gave it back.
When I met Sam, he was 7, living around the corner. Sam always had a bicycle, scooter, unicycle or skateboard attached to him. He would come tearing down the street on pretty much anything with wheels.
If I drove by his house in the morning, he was riding something with wheels. If I passed by in the afternoon, he was still out in the street riding. Often, before dark an audience had gathered to watch the trick he had spent the day learning.
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Soon ramps and grinding rails were being built in his driveway. Now Sam was airborne half the time, jumping on ramps or rails, off the curb or the porch. It is a wonder that Sam broke bones only twice riding bikes, skateboards and unicycles.
Now 12, Sam Sneed has competed in his sixth skateboard tournament. His first competitive event was in May. Since then he has gone through 40 decks. (The deck of a skateboard is the flat part where the rider stands.)
Sam often pays to replace his worn-out decks; he tries to keep an extra $30 or $40 stashed away in case he breaks one. He has learned he needs a sponsor to help him replace his decks.
Sam practices at The Boardroom skate park in Cornelius. This indoor skateboarding and inline-skating facility also features outdoor-style skating, including a half-pipe (a cylinder sliced vertically and laid on its side with the open part up). It has a live webcam and flat-screen televisions for viewing.
With a fully trained staff certified in first aid and CPR, The Boardroom offers private lessons and open skate sessions daily. Winter, spring and summer camps are offered as well.
Three weeks ago, on his 12th birthday, Sam's dad and brother built a half-pipe for him in the garage. Most recently, Sam qualified to compete in the Monster Energy Beast of the Street Skate Competition. The finals were Nov. 13 at Tryon and Third streets.
I had the pleasure of watching him practice last week. It was amazing to see Sam and his friends tear up the ramps and rails alongside bigger dudes. They can outperform many of the older skaters in the classic tricks (including flip-kick, wall-plant and ollie).
What most impresses me about Sam is his focus and determination to master a skill. In the five years we lived near the Sneed family, I saw Sam practice the same skills over and over until he landed them.
Watching him practice recently at The Boardroom, I saw how that relentless diligence has paid off. I watched Sam mentally prepare for a trick that seemed to cause some apprehension. He approached a 5-foot drop numerous times. Then I saw it in his eyes: the moment he took control of his fear and anxiety and used it to catapult himself into the air and perfectly onto the ramp.
I watched him try another jump. After four attempts he landed it flawlessly, then moved on to the next trick.
Skateboarding teaches a great life lesson in perseverance. And that pretty much sums up Sam Sneed.
Remember his name. He may be the next Tony Hawk. And if you are a local skate shop looking to invest in the sport's future, consider sponsoring Sam Sneed. He simply will not quit until he succeeds.