Sam Lupo tried to find a moment of peace as she arched forward into downward dog yoga position. But her 5-year-old son Charlie had other plans. He used her yoga blocks and five-pound weights to create an obstacle course, tumbling about boisterously, cheerfully unaware of his mother’s efforts to create a bubble of Zen before work.
After taking Charlie to the zoo and running errands to the pharmacy and post office, she sat in her “office,” which was a couch surrounded by a pile of Charlie’s toys that day, and hosted business meetings, responded to several dozen emails and sketched designs for branded hoodies and hats.
This is a typical day for Sam. Four years ago, she began to phase out of her own successful photography business to help with her husband Ben Lupo's burgeoning influencer status as “DrLupo” and manage his multimillion-dollar gaming career on Twitch, the Amazon-owned platform on which Ben livestreams himself playing video games to an online audience.
As she negotiates contracts, merchandising and branding for the stream with more than 6 million followers across Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube, Sam juggles motherhood of a precocious son and has positioned her family as leading philanthropists, planning and managing a 24-hour fundraiser that brought in more than $2 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — even in the middle of a pandemic.
Deftly, compassionately, Sam blurs the lines between motherhood and business, family and philanthropy, each area somehow getting their full due. That seamless integration has made her popular in her own right, garnering nearly 260,000 followers on her Twitch stream and social media.
“We didn't go into streaming to be famous. We always said in the end we still just want to be Ben and Sam Lupo. If we ever got too over our heads, I gave friends and family permission to bring us back to reality,” Sam said.
She is as relatable as she is aspirational. She still buys the cereal that's on sale at the grocery store and gets the majority of her clothing second hand because “saving money and the environment” are important to her. She enjoys reading the Harry Potter series and spending family nights playing board games and watching super hero movies.
Sam can be both bold and vulnerable, and it's made her a hit on social media over the last five years. Even as loyal fans of her husband's stream were used to seeing her in the background bringing him props for fundraisers or making cameos with their son, Sam was creating a virtual persona of her own. One who can be bracingly raw about her own health struggles in one segment of her stream, then joke about survival strategies on the popular video game Minecraft on the next.
Loyal follower and moderator Samantha Bartley said she has watched her mentor tackle “deadlines and events that come out of nowhere while taking care of a little boy who needs to be tucked in more than once during a single stream.”
“She has created such an inviting and safe space in her stream,” Bartley said.
But it’s Sam’s tireless work managing her husband’s DrLupo stream and brand that has made the couple one of the highest performing teams in online gaming — an industry which generates more than $150 billion a year in revenue globally, according to a leading trade magazine.
“Without her, I am nothing,” Ben said. “She does an astronomical amount of work to support everything: me, the stream, the brand, our family.”
Ben Lupo was hailed by Time as one of the "25 most influential people on the Internet,” in 2019. The magazine credited his robust charitable giving as a reason for the title. Building on that charisma and popularity, Sam has actively shaped their philanthropic mission and laid the groundwork for it.
She tapped into partnerships years in the making to raise impressive support for causes that are close to their hearts. They’ve raised thousands of dollars for the Fragile X Foundation, which benefits patients with a chromosomal abnormality her younger brother has, and for animal rescue groups.
But St. Jude has emerged as a key focus of their fundraising efforts. Just this past December, Sam corralled popular streamers and guests in the gaming industry to join her husband for their signature Build Against Cancer event that generated $2.3 million for St. Jude for the second year in a row.
That haul, combined with other efforts over the last three years, has brought their total contribution to St. Jude to $8.8 million. Sam’s visits to St. Jude before the COVID-19 pandemic have built a well of empathy within her for patients, families and the mission here, but her own life has also crystalized some hard truths about healthcare, and it fuels her drive to give to a research hospital that pushes the boundaries of pediatric cancer treatment.
She grew up with a younger brother with a genetic disorder who spent the first two years of his life in a hospital and continues to go for checkups annually, so she knows what it’s like to grow up in a family with a sick child and the patience and strength it takes to make it through. She also knows what it’s like to get a difficult diagnosis and chart a path in murky, unfamiliar territory, and how tough that can be unless you find the right doctor to guide you.
She has struggled with chronic Lyme disease, a diagnosis she only received two years ago, despite suffering years of nearly paralyzing fatigue and achy muscles and joints. Doctors had said it might be the lingering effects of flu. But months of trying different medicines, diet changes and exercises did nothing to alleviate the symptoms. It took years to find a doctor to do the full work up necessary to give her the right diagnosis.
“I just want a path, and I don’t care how hard that path is. And I’m sure that’s the relief parents feel when they find out what’s making their kids sick. They’re looking for answers; they just want a path to walk on because walking in circles is not fun,” Sam said.
She shares these lessons with her son Charlie, too, young as he is. She tells him about how hard it must be to feel sick and not know how to fix it. She tells him of a city on the banks of a wide and muddy river and of a campus of pink buildings full of thousands of people, some of them children who are sick, but also doctors and scientists working hard to find ways to treat and cure the serious sicknesses the children have.
Charlie listens closely and decides he wants to be a scientist when he grows up too. Last December, he decorated cookies with his mother during a segment on his father’s stream, raising $70,000 for St. Jude. He plans to do it again this year.
Charlie's favorite shirt is a red one from St. Jude that proclaims “We Won’t Stop.” He sees his mom and dad don’t. So, he won’t stop either.