Sam Cerio

Huntersville native Sam Cerio will graduate in May with a degree in aerospace engineering.

Samantha Cerio is getting married in less than two months, and her father still doesn’t know which song she’s chosen for the father-daughter dance.

“She won’t tell me,” Mike Cerio said. “We joke with each other all the time.”

But following the events of April 5, what comes out of the speakers at the June 1 ceremony is the least of worries for Mike Cerio. That’s when Sam, a senior gymnast at Auburn University and Huntersville native, dislocated both knees and tore multiple ligaments at a meet in Baton Rouge, La.

Beyond the career-ending injury – the Auburn team was competing in a regional, two meets away from the national championship – the Cerios have dealt with seeing video of the injury go viral on social media. Mike and his wife, Becky, have only seen the clip while watching the meet live from home.

“I’m online, and I see, ‘Watch this gymnast break her legs,” Mike Cerio said. “Are you kidding me? I never imagined it would be as viral as it did.”

But Mike Cerio is confident in a full recovery. First of all, she is under the care of renowned sports injury specialist Dr. James Andrews, who has a team in nearby Birmingham, Ala., where Sam’s surgery took place April 8.

The second is the same reason he’s always believed in Sam, who attended Bradley Middle School and graduated in 2015 from South Iredell High School.

“I don’t doubt she will walk around,” he said. “I know better than to doubt my daughter.”

Since she was adopted at 14 months old, Sam has provided her dad with plenty of evidence. The all-Southeastern Conference gymnast was named the league’s Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year for gymnastics. In May, she will graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering, and jetliner manufacturer Boeing already has a job waiting for her in Seattle. That’s right, she’ll be a rocket scientist.

“I was so blessed to work with her… she was always such a pleaser and hard worker,” said Kristie Phillips, owner of KPAC gymnastics in Statesville; Sam went to South Iredell to be close to her gym after homeschooling her first two years of high school.

Phillips trained Sam after she left Everest Gymnastics in 2012 until she left to compete in the SEC – against some of the best gymnasts in the country. Mike Cerio calls the college gymnasts “rock stars on campus.”

“We wanted to help her go from gymnastics-as-life to gymnastics-is-a-part-of-life,” said Phillips, formerly a world-class gymnast. “We worked new skills. We wanted to keep her healthy to go to college and get four good years in.”

Phillips was able to watch Sam compete in February against Arkansas, which had another former KPAC gymnast who was injured at the time. And some of Phillips’ current trainees were able to get a taste of a packed SEC arena on a Friday night.

“I think it’s every little girl’s desire,” Phillips said. “They weren’t so far away from those skills. Sam’s genuine personality, taking pictures with them, telling them this was a dream of hers. She always takes the time to be personal, introduced herself to the girls.”

Mike Ceiro and Phillips have seen Sam land the move that injured her plenty of times in the past.

“Her last meet at Auburn, she had done it perfectly,” Mike Cerio said. “It’s a blind landing; a blind landing is hard.”

Sam’s dad had already bought high heels for her to wear the day she marries fellow Auburn student Trey Wood – a Navy officer candidate. But as part of her recovery Sam will have to wear flats instead – Mike Cerio is sure of it.

“Not only do I want to walk her down the aisle, I want to dance with her,” he said.

With all the national attention Sam has received, Phillips hopes it becomes beneficial for her former student.

"If this is her avenue to reach more lives and touch more children, then she’ll capture it,” Phillips said. “She has a very strong faith and will live up to what’s right and will rise to the occasion.”

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