Most people in Park City, Utah, know the name Sam Jackenthal, who lived a short 16 years but left a big impact on anyone who knew him.
Many initially got to know him as an athlete, which was a passion that started early. Even as a little kid, Sam was obsessed with flying.
“He really took to being in the air,” says his dad, Ron Jackenthal. “He’d launch off the swing set. He loved to be airborne. He liked to fly.”
That passion led to a promising career in freestyle skiing and inline skating. Living in Park City helped bring that dream to pass. Sam was often found on the slopes practicing his moves. He attended the Winter Sports School, which had a modified schedule to allow for more winter sports training.
“He had a great perception of where his body was, even in the air. But he was also athletically driven. If he was going to learn a trick, he’d do it 100 times,” Ron explains.
At age 15, Sam was the U.S. ski champion for men 18 and under. He also won the overall combined title at the U.S. Junior Freestyle Championship and was a top-ranked inline skater internationally. Certainly, Sam was riding high, and his future looked bright.
Then Sam got the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to train in Australia at the Perisher Resort. It was a full-circle moment for him—he’d written a story at age 6 that foretold that someday, he’d “be a professional skier in Australia and live with the kangaroos.”
Sam’s dream had come true, and his family couldn’t be happier for him. Until they got the call. Sam had been in a skiing accident.
“He probably had the best day of his life,” Ron recalls.
Sam would spent nearly a month in the hospital, and the social media eruption and vigils and fundraising back home in Park City helped the family tremendously.
As Ron remembers, “A lot of people were rooting for him.” Unfortunately, Sam passed away. But what came next proved that even in death, Sam could continue to fly.
Back in Park City following Sam’s death, 1,400 people attended a public memorial in Olympic Park to offer their love and support for the family.
“It was just magical how much connection they had to him,” Ron says.
The thing was, while Sam was a strong athlete, what people remembered about him was much more than that. People remembered Sam’s positivity, kindness, generosity, and happy attitude.
“He burned really bright. The way people felt after meeting him—they couldn’t help but smile,” Ron remembers.
The year or so following Sam’s death, many local fundraisers in his name mixed with other organizations to offer help to people in the area. And when the outpouring of community love didn’t fizzle, Ron decided to make it official and start Live Like Sam, a nonprofit that empowers youth to be better people.
The nonprofit’s mission is this: “To empower youth to develop a healthy sense of self and purpose through character development and life-skills programming.”
Initially, Ron decided to quit his job and devote a year to getting Live Like Sam up and running. Five years later, he’s still at it, with more than 30 community partners and countless others who offer help.
“These people won’t go away,” he says of the community that even after all this time show love for Sam and his memory.
Recently, Ron and his daughter, Skylar, presented at a local elementary school about Live Like Sam. Even these young children, who were only 1 or 2 years old when Sam died, already knew who Sam was and what he was all about.
“When I asked, ‘What does it mean to Live Like Sam?’ they all had answers. Literally, I was crying,” Ron explains.
And what were their answers? Every day is a precious day. Be optimistic. Live a big, beautiful life.
Shaping the Organization
After a lot of research and learning, Ron and Skylar both have realized what Live Like Sam needs to offer: tools and hope. Children especially are vulnerable to challenging times. The question is, what will they do when things are tough?
Live Like Sam has been working in partnership with WeBeWell to offer a program called Thrive, which helps Summit County youth grades 6 through 12 to learn emotional resilience, confidence, well-being, and other healthy life skills. Classes are filling up now for a start date in early 2023.
“It’s basically life coaching for youth,” Ron says. “On average, recent Thrive participants experienced a 55 percent decrease in anxiety and a 28 percent decrease in symptoms of depression, while recognizing a 7 percent increase in quality of life after participating in our six–week Thrive program.”
Live Like Sam also offers enrichment and after-school programs for local elementary school children. In fact, in 2022, Live Like Sam positively impacted more than 2,000 Summit County youth and granted more than $150,000 in scholarships for its well-being and prevention programs, ensuring equal opportunity and access for local youth.
Skylar, who is currently attending college in Boston, decided to take on a more active role in Live Like Sam as a way to remember her brother, but also because she was already naturally involved in the decision-making process.
“During our father-daughter phone calls, we couldn’t talk without discussing Live Like Sam,” Skylar explains. Plus, being from a younger generation, Skylar hopes that she can offer a different perspective to the organization.
“At its core, Live Like Sam is to help make youth better people,” says Skylar.
And the nonprofit is positioned to help even more youth in 2023.
“We will provide critical well-being and prevention programming to over 3,000 local youth, grades K-12, in Summit and Wasatch counties,” says Ron. “We will also launch new programming, including an Ambassador Leadership Program, character development and life skills workshops, as well as additional collaborations with community partners.”
While Sam had big dreams, one thing is for sure—he’d be proud of his dad and sister for what they’ve been able to accomplish so far with Live Like Sam. And he’d be equally proud of his community for their outpouring of love and support, which will ultimately help other youth to spread their wings and fly.
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