Imagine becoming famous on the Internet at the young age of just 11 months old. This is life for Sammy, the Success Kid meme. It’s been about ten years since Laney Griner took that viral snapshot of her 11-month-old son sitting on the beach with an expressive brow and a fist-full of sand. Laney is from Jacksonville, Florida, and never did she imagined that her photo that she shared on Flickr would become a viral sensation. More than ten years later, the boy in the picture, known by meme creators as “Success Kid,” is utilizing his internet glory for good.
True Success Story
Laney’s son is 11 years old now, and Sammy truly is a success story. Sam Griner, otherwise known on the internet as the Success Kid, is one of the most recognizable faces in meme history. In case you missed it, baby Sammy’s upward fist pump is widely used to describe a situation that goes better than expected. But the real success story wasn’t made up in the name of relatable humor “likes.” The true success of the Success Kid Meme is firmly based in real life and how Sammy used his fame for something amazing…
The Original Story
Sometimes Sammy’s ever so slightly smug expression is used in a more real sense to illustrate life’s little victories. For instance, the moment when you see a nickel on the ground, but it turns out it’s a silver dollar. The original story of young Sammy’s little victory is held right there in the frame of the photo, for all to see on closer investigation. The mom who dabbles in photography captured the shot of her 11-month-old baby on the beach, while on a family day out with her husband, Justin, in 2007.
At first, Laney was surprised to hear that most people don’t realize she captured her young son at the exact moment he attempted to eat some sand; his clenched fist was trying to grasp hold of the tiny sand grains and his tightly fastened lips gave away a few escaping crumbs. Laney remembers the day, which would change their lives for good, “Justin and I took Sam to the beach that day, especially to take photos.”
“I’d bought my first DSLR camera recently and wanted to get some nicer family portraits with little Sammy, who was just 11 months old at the time. We went out to the beach, and as soon as I would put Sam down in the sand, he’d get a tiny handful of sand and would try to put it in his mouth, as babies that age tend to do with everything.” Laney doesn’t think of herself as a photographer, but her photo of ‘Success Kid’ is a viral sensation.
So, she said, the recognition is remarkable and at the same time humbling. “I’m a mediocre photographer, that only means I have a camera and enjoy taking photos. I’m not a professional so don’t get paid to take pictures and I have no formal qualifications. It’s amazing having one of my photos become so well celebrated.” For her and her husband, photos like these of Sam as a baby are priceless as they encapsulated their most beautiful memories.
I Hate Sandcastles
Just a few months after the photograph was taken, it gathered the attention of the online community, all the way back in 2008 when anonymous social networkers were using Sammy’s face as their profile pictures. However, Sam’s sand-tasting baby antics were initially understood differently to the suggested narrative today. The earliest version of the meme read into Sam’s clenched fist as aggressive, shared with the caption, “I Hate Sandcastles.” Someone got creative with PhotoShop and attached another kid into the background of the photograph, standing next to a sand ruin, over the scene of childhood ruin.
A More Fitting Interpretation
The manipulated image was posted anonymously on various websites online for the occasional laugh and chuckle, purely as entertainment. But Laney, who didn’t know what a meme was when the image was first picked up, was delighted when someone else invented a more befitting message to be shared. Someone saw past the clenched fist and realized it could be interpreted as a personal expression of joy – which is more positive than the previous angle.
Unusual Meme Story
Laney said that she prefers the ‘Success Kid’ version over any other narratives out there. “It’s the most positive, and I feel fortunate that it’s been well received!” she said. “The earliest versions portrayed my son as a bully, and I never wanted him seen like that.” But others were of the same mind and ‘Success Kid’ has been around for over a decade ever since…which brings us to the real miracle of 12-year-old Sam’s remarkable story…
Sammy is a very ordinary 11-year-old; he enjoys skateboarding and spending time with his friends, and is currently being home-schooled by his mom. With all the circulation of the photo, his mom had to hire an agent to be Sammy’s meme manager and deal with licensing requests, but besides that, Sam’s life has stayed pretty much the same. He was used to being thought of as a success by his family, in spite of the viral photo, after being born prematurely and struggling through the first few months of his life.
Sam was brought into this world before his expected date and was born six weeks premature. Little Sam had to get brain surgery as a preemie due to hydrocephalus, an abnormal build-up of liquid in the cavities deep within the brain. “He recovered fantastically, and he’s been great ever since,” Laney Griner said, and if anything he is thriving, with no sign of his early difficulties that he went through while he was still a baby.
In 2009, his dad, Justin, had been diagnosed with kidney disease and was put on dialysis for a few years. Laney describes herself as a “part-time couch enthusiast, full-time Success Mom” with a killer sense of humor. She shared just how scary it was for the entire family, as Sam’s paternal grandmother had passed away from kidney disease. But it became more difficult when the Griners realized they wouldn’t have been able to pay for all the medications needed to heal Justin, a 42-year-old tattoo artist, after his much-needed kidney transplant.
Go Fund Me Page
The family was told they needed to show proof they could pay for the post-transplant medications in order for Justin to be placed on the transplant waiting list.
So many of their friends and family offered financial assistance to help save his life, so Laney and Justin together decided to set up a GoFundMe page where their loved ones could donate. Laney was initially reluctant to mention the Meme on the GoFundMe page because she wanted it to be about Justin.
Later, she decided to post a link to the fundraiser on her Twitter page and said in it, “If everyone who ever created a Success Kid meme donated $1, we could save Success Dad’s life.” A few hundred shares later – from meme admirers and large publishing companies alike – the family’s post went viral… again. Overall, nearly 5,000 people raised $101,125 – more than the family’s $75,000 goal!
Hit Their Target
With more donations than the Griners could dream of, Laney said they reached their target, feeling overjoyed that their goal to save Justin was accomplished. They went on to say that people from all across the globe donated to their cause, and it was the most humbling, incredibly intimate interaction about heartwarming personal connections with humankind. It turned out the meme that went viral saved Justin, so that’s the true success story. Soon, more people found out about the situation…
Best Of Humanity
Laney said that it was “amazing and truly astonishing. People were just so generous and kind, and we could never have expected this as a response. It’s something our family will always remember. There were so many sweet and thoughtful comments from people from all over the world. I do wish that everyone could have this experience…It’s a sweet reminder to me that people are overwhelmingly good.” Justin had the transplant four years ago, and today is living free from dialysis.
The Picture Helped Save His Life
Sam cannot believe an ordinary beach day all those years ago saved his dad’s life. “I’m thrilled my photo could help him as it did. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I’m so happy he’s okay now,” ha said. Like many kids, though, Sam is preoccupied with the end of another school year and escaping to a summer camp, where he gets to be a normal kid with a passion for gaming, the Justice League and his French bulldog, Oscar.
Laney, who describes her family as “regular folk,” chipped in to say, “We’ll keep living life as usual.” She added that they like traveling a lot, and Sam wants to keep learning more about art. Sam and Justin enjoy drawing together, and it’s become their bonding time. “Justin’s tattoo business is doing great, and we’re a happy family.” Whatever more may come is just icing. After all, Sam said he couldn’t remember the photo being taken – and he’s hardly ever recognized.
Sam is a very easygoing kid, remaining calm about his Internet career. He’s said, “It’s cool, but it doesn’t affect my daily life at all. People only know if I tell them or my mom does. People don’t recognize me from my baby photo because I look very different nowadays.” But he’s not tired of having to relive it just yet, and has his sights set on a career in the online realm, perhaps as a YouTuber or an artist like his dad.
He people always ask him to do the fist pump pose when they find out who he is. Sam’s fame reached much further than the family could’ve ever expected, Laney said, citing a Virgin Media billboard campaign featuring a mirrored version of Sammy’s photo. The campaign changed the color of Sammy’s top to red instead of green and called him Tim, which many fans didn’t like, but Laney confirmed they paid her fair and square for the right to do so.
Laney said, “It wasn’t lucrative for us, but it was the first advertising ever to use the photo. When the photo first became popular, that was when I started seeing it all the time, and I wasn’t sure what I had to do to protect it. I assumed that my photo would be recognized as mine (in legal terms) simply because I took it. I was wrong and needed to get official copyright. However, I’m delighted with those billboard advertisements, regardless of the money they generated.”
Moreover, Laney has remarked that she has no regrets about her part in creating a viral young superstar out of her son, and mused that its popularity would “never stop blowing her mind.” Sam is quite obviously also pleased about his meme success and added, “I’m really happy that I’m famous because I’m glad that people like it. I’m glad it makes people happy when they’re sad. I’m also really happy that I still have a dad.”
Even though the whole world recognizes her son Sammy’s face, Laney said, “I just took a photo of my baby boy one day at the beach and posted it to my Flickr account, that’s it, so it became a meme without me doing anything else, so the fact that it became viral had nothing to do with me. But we are so happy because it’s come with so much positivity and seems to make people happy.”
Symbol Of Strenght
“I have no regrets about the photo going viral. I could’ve never imagined this would have come out of that day at the beach, but it’s been a mostly awesome experience,” Laney said. For his entire family, his picture has become a symbol of strength and human kindness in the face of adversity. Rather than defining Sam by an expressive face, it serves as a kind of bizarre modern-day savior for his dad that he will always remember.