MBA student who uses wheelchair walks across stage at commencement ceremony

PHOTO: Sam Bridgman gets out of his wheelchair with the help of Coach Scott and Coach Cat as he graduates from USF on May 7, 2017.PlayUniversity of South Florida
WATCH MBA student in wheelchair walks to receive diploma

A business school graduate from the University of South Florida took some of the most meaningful steps of his life last Saturday.

Sam Bridgman, 25, who has been in a wheelchair since he was 18 because of a rare genetic condition, challenged himself to walk across the stage to accept his diploma at his college commencement ceremony.

With the roar of the crowd cheering him on, Bridgman rose up from his wheelchair and was supported by two longtime friends and trainers, who helped him step forward to accept his diploma.

"I was just focused on not falling," he told ABC News with a laugh.

PHOTO: Sam Bridgman stood up with the help of two friends and physical trainers to walk across the graduation stage at USF, May 7, 2017.Keith Morelli/USF Muma College of Business
Sam Bridgman stood up with the help of two friends and physical trainers to walk across the graduation stage at USF, May 7, 2017.

University of South Florida Dean Moez Limayem said when he watched Bridgman rise out of his wheelchair the only word that flashed through his mind was "inspiring."

"It was magical. I've never seen such a strong standing ovation in all my years in this business,” Limayem told ABC News. "Sam did this against all the odds because he wanted to do this and prove for himself that he can fight this horrible disease until the very last second."

Bridgman is battling Friedreich's ataxia (FA), a disease which currently has no cure. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, FA begins with nervous system damage and leads to impaired muscle coordination problems. Bridgman said his doctors have told him that he may be unable to care for himself one day and that his heart will fail.

But the disease has not stopped the 25-year-old from pursuing an active life in sports (he's the manager for his college baseball team) nor did it prevent him from setting ambitious goals.

The Seattle native successfully earned an undergraduate degree in finance in 2013, got his MBA from the USF Muma College of Business and landed a job with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Trainers Cat Wade and Bradford Scott were also on hand to help Bridgman walk across the graduation stage at the University of Portland. He asked them both to fly cross-country to Florida to be at his side again for his business school graduation.

"It kind of came full circle," Bridgman said. "I think it's important to know that people in wheelchairs and people with disabilities are just like anyone else. We all need love, we all want to work and go out to dinner with friends and have a smile and a laugh."

Bridgman has a tattoo on his wrist with the words, "Seek a miracle ... Impossible is nothing."

"There's no treatment and no cure for FA so it reads 'seek a miracle' because we're seeking a miracle every day," he said. "And 'impossible is nothing,' is to remind myself that I can do anything as long as I put my mind toward it and with the love and support of people around me."

"My parents and my brother all have the same [tattoo] too. It makes our bond as a family stronger," he said.

PHOTO: Seek a miracle bracelets made in honor of Sam Bridgmans graduation from USF on May 7, 2017.Lorie Briggs
"Seek a miracle" bracelets made in honor of Sam Bridgman's graduation from USF on May 7, 2017.

He added, "We need everyone's help to get treatment and a cure. Not just for FA but [for] multiple diseases that other people suffer as well. Always remind yourself that impossible is nothing. You can do it."