Auburn - For Auburn gymnast Samantha Cerio, it was bad enough to have suffered a gruesome injury, dislocating both her knees while tearing multiple ligaments during a recent meet. The 22-year-old engineering student has been made to relive that moment again and again through social media, and she issued a plea for that to end.
"Those of you posting and tagging me in the video of my injury, I am asking you to please stop," Cerio reportedly tweeted Wednesday, before taking her account private on Thursday. "Going through the pain and seeing my knees bent unnaturally in real life was horrible enough, but to continue to see it from videos/pictures because some people feel entitled to repost it is not okay."
"My pain is not your entertainment," she added.
Cerio was competing with her Tigers at an NCAA regional tournament Friday in Baton Rouge, with a trip to the national championships at stake. The anchor of Auburn's floor routine team, she was trying to execute a handspring double front with a blind landing when things went horribly awry.
In a scene that Auburn's women's gymnastics coach Jeff Graba called "pretty tough to watch," Cerio remained on the mat for several minutes as medical staff attended to her and onlookers gasped. As she was being taken away on a stretcher, though, her thoughts went to her teammates.
"She's a trouper," Graba said of Cerio to the Times-Picayune. "The last thing she said was, 'Go help the girls.' The girls rallied around her."
With a rallying cry of "Stick it for Sam!" the other Tigers got the job done, posting the highest regional score in programme history and finishing in the top two to send Auburn on to the next day's competition.
"Sam is just so passionate in everything she does, especially with this team," senior gymnast Abby Milliet said (via auburntigers.com). "So I circled everybody together and I said, 'We're not going to do this. We're not going to get sad. We can be sad later, because it is sad. But we're going to do what she would want us to do. . . . Sam wouldn't want us to give up. She would fight harder.'"
Saying in an Instagram post on Sunday that the meet represented her "final night as a gymnast," Cerio asserted, "I couldn't be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me to become. It's taught me hard work, humility, integrity, and dedication, just to name a few. It's given me challenges and road blocks that I would have never imagined that has tested who I am as a person.
"It may not have ended the way I had planned, but nothing ever goes as planned."
Graba tweeted Tuesday that Cerio's surgery "lasted two and a half hours and was an extreme success." He added, "We know the road for full healing is going to be a long and difficult one, but we are confident that she'll be able to make a complete recovery."
To fellow Auburn gymnast Drew Watson, Cerio was the ideal person to have on her side.
"Sam is the most team-oriented, team-spirited person on our team," Watson said in the wake of Cerio's injury. "She wants everything for the team. She always has the stuff that we need. Whether it's nail clippers or hair stuff, she's always there. And she wouldn't want us to fall apart."
Cerio's athletic career may be over, but she is well-prepared to excel in other areas. The 2019 Southeastern Conference Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year for gymnastics, she's an aerospace engineering major who, according to Auburn, "already has a job lined up in Seattle with Boeing where she will be working on rockets as a Structural Design Analysis Engineer."
"Sam stands out because she's a great role model for everyone here on campus," Auburn President Steven Leath said. "She's the perfect Auburn ambassador because she represents hard work, integrity. She represents athletics. She represents academics. She's the total package. Sometimes you forget all that she does because she makes it look so easy."
Cerio's more immediate goal is to recover in time for her wedding in June. "She wants to walk down the aisle and get married, and we're hoping she can do that," Graba told NBC News.
For such a capable person, it could well be all the more frustrating to feel relatively helpless about being tagged in online posts, even sympathetic ones, showing her agonising episode. In her Twitter message, she still indicated that she was at least as concerned about those around her.
"I have family, friends, and teammates who do not need to see me getting injured over and over again."