Written by Cory Twibell Friday, 21 September 2012 00:00
“I got involved with wheelchair basketball when I was 16 years old. I was looking for a racing wheelchair after seeing another athlete race and the wheelchair sales rep told me to play basketball instead,” said Serio, who was able to learn the game with the Long Island Lightning Junior Wheelchair Basketball Team.
Serio, who at the age of 11 months underwent surgery to remove a spinal tumor that rendered him an incomplete paraplegic, most likely would’ve been a world-class racer, but in retrospect, choosing basketball has worked out well for the former Westbury resident, who celebrated his 25th birthday in front of nearly 13,000 fans while competing at the London Paralympic Games on Sept. 8.
“Representing the U.S. has been my single greatest accomplishment in my career. Nothing compares to wearing the ‘USA’ letters across your chest, knowing that your friends, family and other players across the country have your back,” Serio explained.
Serio’s late start in the sport is a testament to his natural athletic ability and dedication to his craft, which earned him a spot on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s men’s wheelchair basketball team following his graduation with honors from Carle Place High School in 2005.
“He’s just a terrific young man. He’s really an individual that has all the different parts to be successful in anything that he does – it just happens that he is doing wheelchair basketball. He has all the different aspects that go into the characteristics of a successful person,” said Serio’s coach at Illinois, Mike Frogley, who noted that Steve was a team captain and Academic All-American before graduating in 2010 with a degree in exercise physiology.
“I went to a top-20 university in the country, which definitely helped me in the other aspects of life that I want to do besides basketball,” Serio noted.
Frogley described his former player as a jack-of-all-trades with an intelligence level that allowed him to completely revamp the team’s system from a slower, half-court style to a more up-tempo, full-court transition offense – a scheme Frogley believes that many international teams will begin to adopt over the next several years.
“You can use him in almost any situation. When you start to bring together those character traits, his intelligence and his athleticism, you end up with a really well rounded player who excels in all areas.
“But what probably separates him from a lot of great players is he doesn’t want to just leave what he’s got for himself; he reaches out to the community and he’s active in the community and giving back,” Frogley said.
Serio’s list of accomplishments on the court is remarkable, as he’s earned enough precious medals to make a miner envious: 2006 IWBF World Championship, silver medal; 2007 Parapan American Games, gold medal; 2008 North American Cup, gold medal; 2009 U23 World Juniors, gold medal and MVP; 2010 Collegiate Champion, MVP; 2010 IWBF World Championship, bronze medal; 2011 Parapan American Games, gold medal; 2012 European Championship, gold medal and MVP.
During the London Paralympic Games, Serio sported his familiar number 11 for Team USA and led the Americans with 20 points in a 61-46 win over Team Great Britain in the bronze medal game. Prior to that matchup, Serio faced more than a few familiar foes in the quarterfinal round when Team USA was slated against Team Germany, the country he currently calls home.
“We played Germany in the quarterfinals and about half of the German national team were my teammates on RSV Lahn Dill, so we knew each other very well. But when you play against people you know and love, it just makes you play that much harder,” said Serio, who speaks fondly of his new country and career.
“I’m playing professionally in Germany against the best players in Europe year-round. Getting paid to play wheelchair basketball is something I never thought possible,” Serio said.
The game has afforded him many opportunities to travel, meet new people and try new things, which happen to be some of his favorite hobbies.
“Outside of the gym I love connecting with the friends that I’ve made around the world and traveling. My favorite places have been London and China for the Paralympics, Germany, Rio de Janeiro and Paris,” said Serio, who has reveled in the “positive support from fans and the community” in Germany, in addition to another pastime that keeps his spirits up.
“The beer is delicious,” Serio added.
Serio’s road may be one less traveled, but his principles behind success are applicable for almost any endeavor.
“The best advice I could give is anything you can dream of is possible with hard work and the support of people that love you. Set your goals high and hard work will be rewarded,” Serio said.