AUBURN, Ala. — Sam Cerio's eyes lit up as she reached for the cell phone in the basket on the front of the blue scooter that, for the time being, is serving as her legs.
She flipped through photo after photo of herself walking across the stage at graduation a few days earlier, a moment she told her doctors would happen, a moment that received an ovation from the parents, family and friends of all the new graduates that were seated inside Auburn Arena on the first Saturday in May.
But Cerio wasn't looking at herself beaming as her four years at Auburn University came to an official conclusion. She was laughing, lovingly, at the person you can kind of see behind her in those photos. There's the one where his face is visible, but out of focus. There’s the one you can see just his left shoulder. There’s the one where you can see just his right eye poking out behind her cap.
Before Joseph Donald Wood III — or Trey, as everyone calls him — walked across the stage, someone told him, "Good luck following that." He probably laughed. His name might have followed hers at their graduation, but she'll take that name as her own when the two get married early next month.
That doesn’t mean Cerio is going to let her future husband live down the joke, though. That photo where her face is eclipsing his? It has shades of Ryan Reynolds’ viral tweet to his wife, Blake Lively. Cerio is thinking about getting it framed.
WEDDING DATE: Auburn gymnast plans to walk down aisle
AUBURN GYMNAST: 'My pain is not your entertainment'
Wow. I walked away with my BAE yesterday pic.twitter.com/OebPyWoHvj
On April 5, Cerio became the subject of national headlines for a reason she never wanted to or could have even imagined. An awkward landing on the mat on her first pass in the floor exercise at an NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resulted in two dislocated knees and multiple torn ligaments in each.
Within hours, ESPN, Deadspin, The Washington Post, USA TODAY and countless other outlets had written stories about her. Days later, she appeared on NBC’s Today show in front of a national TV audience. Video of her devastating injury and photos of her anguish went viral so quickly that Cerio felt motivated to ask the Internet to stop, and it actually seemed to listen.
“Going through the pain and seeing my knees bent unnaturally in real life was horrible enough,” she wrote on Twitter, “but to continue to see it from videos/pictures because some people feel entitled to repost it is not okay. I have family, friends and teammates who do not need to see me getting injured over and over again. My pain is not your entertainment.”
You won’t find that video or those photos anywhere in this story, and not only because she has specifically requested it. Not much of this story is going to be about Cerio’s injury; it’s going to be about a four-year Auburn gymnast who recently graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering, has a job lined up at Boeing and plans to walk down the aisle at her wedding to Wood on June 1.
Cerio is so much more than that one pass across the floor at LSU.
“This injury, my injury, isn’t what’s going to define me,” Cerio told the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t want it to.”
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