From abused child to FranklinCovey executive and LDS family man, Sam Bracken's journey of a radical change

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

“My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (October 2008 general conference)

Sam Bracken’s childhood was one of unspeakable abuse and neglect.

By the time he was a teenager, Bracken had been beaten, starved, set on fire, molested, and exposed to all kinds of drugs and alcohol. At age 15, his mother kicked him out on the street and took up with a motorcycle gang.

Despite the hopelessness, the Lord did not abandon this troubled youth.

Thanks to a long list of loving friends, generous strangers, teachers and coaches — Bracken’s “angels” — he found the LDS Church, earned a college football scholarship, served a mission and was eventually married in the temple. Today the father of four is a successful businessman and philanthropist. He is a speaker and author. He seeks out opportunities to mentor at-risk youths.

“I was really fortunate, truly blessed, I had angels all around me. … I had some key people at the right time, who did the right things, and they reached across to help me,” Bracken said. “It made all the difference.”

Lost childhood

Conceived when his mother was raped, Sam grew up in Las Vegas in the 1970s. His dark childhood was scarred by poverty and a series of bad decisions by his mother.

When Sam was 7, his mother married Leroy Bracken. She worked three jobs, was rarely home and took pills to stay awake. According to Bracken, his stepfather watched TV in underwear, consumed alcohol and abused Bracken and his siblings. Lenny, a stepbrother who once poured lighter fluid on Sam’s arm and laughed as he flicked a lighter, introduced him to marijuana and beer, Bracken says.

Big for his age at 13, Bracken passed as an adult at the casino where his mother worked. He was allowed to gamble, drink and meet women. He also befriended a kid whose father was a mobster.

At age 15, Bracken’s mother moved in with a Hessian motorcycle gang and abandoned him, saying, “Someday you will thank me for this.”

And that’s only a sampling of his horrific childhood. Bracken details all the atrocities of his youth in his book. (More on the book later.)

Amid the despair, at least three blessings emerged.

At age 14, one of his teachers figured out he needed glasses, not special education courses, to succeed in school. His grades went from Cs, Ds and Fs to As.

Bracken also discovered he was gifted athletically. He started running track and playing football.

After his mother abandoned him, he went for a long run in the desert and collapsed in the dirt. At that low point of his young life, Bracken said a desperate prayer for God to help him.

“I had no place to go; I was at a loss. Then I get this impression to call my friend, Brent,” Bracken said. “He was a Mormon.”

A new course

Bracken’s prayer was answered when Brent’s family took him in for a time. He excelled in a “normal” family environment. A few coaches and teachers who were aware of his situation went the extra mile in helping him. Bracken raised his GPA to 3.9 and stood out in football and track. He also began investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As he met with the missionaries and read the Book of Mormon, he gained a strong testimony of the gospel, but had to wait until his senior year for permission to be baptized.

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