Steve Serio, a three-time Paralympian, won gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, won bronze at the 2012 London Paralympics four years prior and is a four-time world medalist. The New York native was diagnosed with a spinal tumor as an infant. He had surgery to remove it, which resulted in him becoming partially paralyzed. He began playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 15 and made his national team debut two years later. He also won an ESPY Award for "Best Male Athlete with a Disability" in 2017 and was the first wheelchair basketball player to win this award.
Get to know more about Serio ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics.
Finding Wheelchair Basketball
At 11 months old, Serio was diagnosed with a spinal tumor. He had surgery to remove it, which resulted in partial paralysis. He played with able-bodied athletes in middle school but in high school the schoolboard refused to let him play due to safety and liability reasons. He found a wheelchair basketball team nearby and recalls his first time in a wheelchair basketball chair to be "empowering."
"It was the first time in my life that I felt free from my disability."
Serio, officially began playing wheelchair basketball at age 15 as a member of the Long Island Lightning, the only competitive junior wheelchair basketball team in New York State.
"It allowed me to embrace the things that make me different. The last thing you want when you're growing up is to be different. But sports allowed me to embrace my disability and my flaws and turned me into a kickass athlete who has hopefully become a good leader for the Paralympic movement."
Played collegiately as a point guard for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduated in May 2010 with a bachelors degree in Exercise Science and a minor in Gerontology (the study of old age and the process of aging). He remains close friends with former Illinois teammate Hiroaki Kozai, who plays for Japan.
Serio currently plays for the New York Rolling Knicks in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Championship Division. The NWBA is comprised of over 200 wheelchair basketball teams across twenty-two conferences. The New York Rolling Knicks compete in the elite men's division (Division I), which includes 20 teams.
Serio played in Germany for five years for a club team called RSV Lahn Dill. He lived in the town of Giessen in central Germany during his contract with this team. Was only planning to stay for eight months after signing his first contract but ended up staying for five years. He goes back to see the team once a year and plans to go again after Tokyo.
When asked how well he knows German: "I always tell people that if you are under the age of five or over the age of 80 we can have a really good conversation in German."
Serio says his teammate Matt Scott is someone that always pushes him and inspires him to be a better athlete and person. He says Scott is who he always wanted to be in college and is someone he looks up to.
"He was this big, imposing, physical, extremely fast, extremely talented player that I wanted to replicate my game after, but when I got a chance to meet him, I fell in love with his positivity and outlook on life."
Serio says his experience on the U.S. team has been so meaningful because he has shared the journey with Scott. The two have been teammates for the past 18 years.