Auburn College gymnast and graduate Sam Cerio talks about her Auburn profession and her harm on Thursday Could 9, 2019.
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN, Ala. — Sam Cerio’s eyes lit up as she reached for the cellphone within the basket on the entrance of the blue scooter that, in the interim, is serving as her legs.

She flipped by means of picture after picture of herself strolling throughout the stage at commencement just a few days earlier, a second she informed her medical doctors would occur, a second that obtained an ovation from the mother and father, household and mates of all the brand new graduates that have been seated inside Auburn Area on the primary Saturday in Could.

But Cerio wasn’t looking at herself beaming as her four years at Auburn University came to an official conclusion. She was laughing, lovingly, on the individual you’ll be able to sort of see behind her in these photographs. There’s the one the place his face is seen, however out of focus. There’s the one you’ll be able to see simply his left shoulder. There’s the one the place you’ll be able to see simply his proper eye poking out behind her cap.

Earlier than Joseph Donald Wooden III — or Trey, as everybody calls him — walked throughout the stage, somebody informed him, “Good luck following that.” He most likely laughed. His title may need adopted hers at their commencement, however she’ll take that title as her personal when the 2 get married early subsequent month.

That doesn’t imply Cerio goes to let her future husband stay down the joke, although. That picture the place her face is eclipsing his? It has shades of Ryan Reynolds’ viral tweet to his wife, Blake Lively. Cerio is considering getting it framed.

WEDDING DATE: Auburn gymnast plans to walk down aisle

AUBURN GYMNAST: ‘My pain is not your entertainment’

On April 5, Cerio grew to become the topic of nationwide headlines for a cause she by no means needed to or may have even imagined. An awkward touchdown on the mat on her first move within the flooring train at an NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resulted in two dislocated knees and a number of torn ligaments in every.

Inside hours, ESPN, Deadspin, The Washington Submit, USA TODAY and numerous different retailers had written tales about her. Days later, she appeared on NBC’s At present present in entrance of a nationwide TV viewers. Video of her devastating harm and photographs of her anguish went viral so rapidly that Cerio felt motivated to ask the Web to cease, and it truly appeared to hear.

“Going by means of the ache and seeing my knees bent unnaturally in actual life was horrible sufficient,” she wrote on Twitter, “however to proceed to see it from movies/photos as a result of some individuals really feel entitled to repost it isn’t okay. I’ve household, mates and teammates who don’t have to see me getting injured over and over. My ache will not be your leisure.”

You received’t discover that video or these photographs wherever on this story, and never solely as a result of she has particularly requested it. Not a lot of this story goes to be about Cerio’s harm; it’s going to be a few four-year Auburn gymnast who not too long ago graduated with a level in aerospace engineering, has a job lined up at Boeing and plans to stroll down the aisle at her marriage ceremony to Wooden on June 1.

Cerio is a lot greater than that one move throughout the ground at LSU.

“This harm, my harm, isn’t what’s going to outline me,” Cerio informed the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t need it to.”


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Cerio got here to gymnastics by trial and error. Her mother and father, Becky and Michael, needed to get her concerned in a sport when she was about four years outdated, however they didn’t know which one. They tried soccer first, however the constraints have been too unfastened. Cerio most well-liked to sit down on the bottom and play with the grass fairly than run round. Subsequent was ballet, however that was too constricting — the instructors couldn’t hold Cerio nonetheless lengthy sufficient to show her.

Gymnastics wound up being the right mixture. She didn’t should run in something aside from brief bursts, and again flips and hand springs are far more thrilling than a Pas de Bourrée. The Huntersville, North Carolina, native took to the game so rapidly and have become aggressive at such a excessive stage that she started dreaming concerning the Olympics. The thought competing on the school stage didn’t cross her thoughts till the primary letters started arriving in her mailbox.

A type of letters was from Auburn. Cerio first popped up on coach Jeff Graba’s radar throughout her ninth-grade 12 months, whereas she was competing on the Kristie Phillips Athletic Heart in Troutman, North Carolina — a high-level gymnasium frequented by school coaches. From a sensible standpoint, she was an ideal match for the Tigers; they’d 4 scholarships obtainable for 2016 and so they wanted a powerful competitor on bars, which Cerio was.

What drew Graba to her, although, was simply not her bodily capability, but additionally the main focus and dedication with which she attacked the game. “You may run throughout athletes which are proficient, however they don’t make the most of each facet of their expertise as a result of they’re not pushed sufficient to entry all their talents,” he stated. “Infrequently, you run throughout someone that’s extraordinarily proficient however can also be pushing the envelope.

“I really feel prefer it’s the Michael Jordan factor, the place he’s actually proficient, however he additionally used virtually all of his expertise as a result of he was so pushed, and I believe, to me, she’s like that.”

At Auburn, Cerio earned SEC All-Freshman Crew honors in 2016 and All-SEC honors in each 2017 and 2018. She additionally certified for the NCAA Championships on bars in each 2017 and 2018, which positioned her among the many greatest within the nation.

However lecturers have been equally essential to Cerio. Her mother and father have all the time been supportive of her gymnastics profession, she stated, however all through it, they reminded her that “gymnastics will finish ultimately, and it’s important to go and do different issues after that, so it’s important to discover one thing that you simply love as a lot as you do gymnastics.”

That wound up being engineering. She began out in chemical, however after rapidly realizing she wasn’t as sturdy in chemistry as she thought she was popping out of highschool, she switched to mechanical and later targeted in on aerospace.

Cerio helped design a launch car idea that might go into low earth orbit for seven days than descend again right down to the bottom, utilizing components of the Saturn V, Atlas 5 and Dragon 2. She took the wing of a P-51 Mustang fighter and put it by means of finite factor evaluation. She did structural evaluation on the Area Launch System throughout an internship with Boeing in the course of the summer season earlier than her senior 12 months at Auburn.

When you merely glossed over all these difficult groupings of letters and numbers, you’re not alone: Cerio’s educational work went over a few of her teammates’ heads, too.

“I didn’t actually speak about gymnastics and aerodynamics all that a lot,” Cerio stated, “as a result of my teammates are like, ‘that’s simply stuff we don’t even perceive. It’s OK. You don’t have to speak about it.’”

In some way, between her coaching routine and follow and meets and going to class and learning, she managed to fall in love, get engaged and plan a marriage. Like Cerio, Wooden can also be an aerospace engineer — that’s how the 2 met. He’s just a few years older, an enormous automotive man, and as of their commencement day, a commissioned Naval officer. He was a part of the crew that did the flyover excessive above Jordan-Hare Stadium earlier than Auburn soccer’s Oct. 7, 2017, win over Ole Miss.

Wooden popped the query in entrance of Samford Corridor on Nov. 18 of final 12 months, and she or he stated sure. As a result of each are engineers, they have been good sufficient to get the majority of the marriage planning executed over Christmas break, earlier than the gymnastics season and spring semester started, so there are just a few particulars left to finalize. The one most prominently on Cerio’s thoughts is determining what goes into altering one’s authorized title.

They’ll be married on the Fairhope Yacht Membership on Saturday night, June 1, simply steps away from the Cell Bay — Cerio hopes it received’t be too scorching and humid. They’ve already moved out of the home they shared in Auburn, and shortly, they’ll relocate to Charleston, South Carolina, the place Cerio will begin her profession as a structural analyst at Boeing (it was going to be Seattle earlier than her harm) and Wooden will put together for deployment onto a submarine. They’re pondering Hawaii for his or her honeymoon.

“Trey have to be the most effective human beings on earth, as a result of I don’t know if he ever will get to see her,” Graba joked. “I simply really feel like that’s the untold story, is how does she squeeze all of this in?

“She’s the top of our Pupil Athlete Advisory Council; she’s an aerospace engineering main; she did a full internship final summer season with Boeing and received out of a job out of that, so earlier than her senior 12 months of faculty, she already had a job; she’s engaged to be married midway by means of this 12 months; and she or he’s the most effective gymnasts that has ever walked by means of the doorways right here. I’m impressed by her.”

That’s what made what occurred to her on April 5 in Baton Rouge so heartbreaking for everybody round her. The bodily ache was Cerio’s alone, however the emotional ache was shared by her whole help system — teammates, coaches, family and friends. Graba described it as one of many worst nights in his life as a coach. For some time, the workforce couldn’t get by means of a gathering with out somebody crying.

Cerio doesn’t bear in mind a lot from the fast aftermath of her harm. She remembers pondering that her move (a handspring double entrance flip) was barely off, and that she nonetheless had an opportunity to tug all of it the way in which round or, at worst, land on her butt. As soon as she didn’t, the remainder — getting tended to on the mat, getting stretchered off the ground, going to the hospital — was all chaos.

One factor Cerio does bear in mind vividly, although, is senior athletics coach Cindy Cohen telling her, “Don’t fear; you’re going to stroll down that aisle.” It grew to become a rallying cry for her rehab course of, which she described as customary for any main leg harm, solely multiplied by each legs.

“My trainers and I all know, we’re all on the identical web page; that is going to occur,” stated Cerio, who underwent a profitable performed by Dr. James Andrews days after the harm. “We’re going to make it work. We’re going to do as a lot as we are able to to get me to that purpose.”

There isn’t a doubt that Cerio will make a full restoration from her harm, however there’s additionally no set timetable for when that can occur. Or, if there’s, Cerio hasn’t requested. She doesn’t need to know. She has her personal objectives, and she or he’s not occupied with anybody telling her she received’t be capable of accomplish them.

Probably the most urgent of these objectives is with the ability to stroll down the aisle June 1, and since she was in a position to stroll throughout the stage at commencement 4 weeks earlier than that, it appears probably that she’ll be capable of do this. However the greatest purpose is to be self-sufficient. She’s mastered the usage of her scooter, and she or he’s in a position to rise up and stroll brief distances with out crutches supplied there’s one thing for her to carry onto, however there are nonetheless so many fundamental day-to-day actions — comparable to showering, making meals and stepping into mattress — which are onerous for her.

And nonetheless, she has a smile ever current on her face.

“I’m positive she’s had her weak moments,” Graba stated. “All us athletes have had these weak moments the place we’re by ourselves and really feel a bit of bit sorry for ourselves and we’re annoyed, and I can’t think about she hasn’t had that. However that isn’t how she operates, that isn’t who she is. She’s very goal-oriented and pushed, she’s 100 miles per hour; as soon as she units her thoughts to one thing, she’s in a position to block all the opposite stuff out.

“I’m extraordinarily happy with the way in which she dealt with it, however I’ve to say, I’m not stunned in any respect.”

Cerio describes her perspective as a selection. Life goes at hand you these conditions the place issues don’t go your method, whether or not or not it’s in competitors or the classroom or wherever else, and whether or not you need to or not, it’s important to undergo it. However it’s as much as you whether or not you need to go although it with a constructive perspective or destructive one, and there isn’t any mistaking which method Cerio determined to go.

After laughing at these photos of Wooden on her telephone, she exhibits off the options of her scooter — the basket on the entrance crammed with a water bottle, snacks and the grabber her buddy gave her; the horn she needs was a lot louder, or at the least performed a bit of tune. Earlier than that, she chided the three individuals together with her inside Auburn’s gymnastics gymnasium for not having seen “Avengers: Endgame” but, despite the fact that it had already been in theaters for greater than every week. She informed a narrative about Graba’s twin brother, Jess.

Cerio suffered a devastating and career-ending harm simply weeks earlier, however like she stated: that isn’t going to outline her.

“I’ve executed so many issues right here that the constructive completely outweigh the negatives,” Cerio stated. “I’ve been in a position to take action many issues I by no means imagined I’d be capable of do right here that I’m simply so grateful for the alternatives Auburn has given me, and the truth that I had one little bump within the street, it doesn’t actually matter simply because, once you have a look at the 4 years I’ve been at Auburn, I’ve been in a position to accomplish a lot and be taught a lot as an individual.”

Observe Josh Vitale on Twitter at @JoshVitale