Samantha Cerio will have surgery on Monday after dislocating and tearing ligaments in both of her knees

By Dave Quinn
April 08, 2019 03:03 PM

A tragic injury ended Samantha Cerio’s 18-year gymnastics career on Friday night.

The student-athlete from Huntersville, North Carolina, 22, was competing at the NCAA Regional Semifinal in Baton Rouge as a senior on Auburn University’s gymnastics team when she touched down badly while doing a blind landing on a tumbling pass — dislocating and tearing ligaments in both of her knees in the process.

It was Cerio’s first pass as the Tigers’ floor exercise anchor and it would end up being her last.

Clutching her legs in pain and crying openly, she was quickly treated by Louisiana State University paramedics, who put air casts on her to help with the pain. According to The Advocate, more than 5,500 of the fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center gave her a standing ovation as she was carried out on a stretcher.

COLLEGE GYMNASTICS: JAN 29 Elevate the Stage Alabama v Auburn
Samantha Cerio
| Credit: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty

It was pretty tough to watch,” Auburn’s coach Jeff Graba told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, adding that he’d never seen an injury like Cerio’s. “She’s a trooper. The last thing she said was, ‘Go help the girls.’ ”

Cerio’s teammates rallied around her before she left, uniting under the motto “Stick it for Sam,” according to the outlet.

They went on to earn an overall score of 197.075 — the second-highest for the Tigers all season, the Times-Picayune reported. It earned them a spot in Saturday’s regional final, according to the Times-Picayune.

Fellow senior Auburn gymnast Abby Milliet told the outlet that her teammates pulled off the victory for Cerio. She recalled telling them in a huddle: ” ‘Y’all. I know we want to feel sad for Sam right now, but this is not what she would have wanted. Sam has put everything into this and she’s going to want us to give everything. This is our new fire.’ ”

In the back of our minds we were all thinking that we know we can do it,” sophomore Drew Watson told the “We were all just having Sam in the back of our minds in a positive way. … We were pushing through for her.”

NCAA Womens Gymnastics, Fort Worth, USA
Samantha Cerio
| Credit: Tony Gutierrez/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, Cerio — an aerospace engineering major with a job already lined up at Boeing in Seattle upon her graduation in May — remained in good spirits about her injury when she posted on Instagram later in the weekend.

“Friday night was my final night as a gymnast,” she wrote, captioning a gallery of photos from her time on the floor. “After 18 years I am hanging up my grips and leaving the chalk behind.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me to become,” Cerio said. “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.”

Her caption ended with a note of thanks to her teachers and teammates. “Thank you Auburn family for giving me a home and a chance to continue doing the sport that will always be my first love,” Cerio shared. “I am honored to have had the privilege to represent the navy and orange AU for the past 4 years with my team by my side. Thank you for letting me share my passion with you. Thank you for letting me be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Cerio’s father did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment as to her condition, but according to a statement Graba posted to social media, Cerio will go into surgery on Monday with Dr. James Andrews.

“The Auburn Athletics Department is thankful for the outstanding care that the Auburn and LSU medical staffs have provided to Sam,” his statement read. “We are also thankful for the support form the LSU Athletics Department for going above and beyond in this situation. Sam is a fighter and is in great spirits. We couldn’t have a better leader for this team.”