Auburn University gymnast Samantha Cerio opened up on TODAY about the harrowing moment she suffered career-ending injuries to both knees at a competition earlier this month.
"When I had landed that one, I felt like something was a little wrong, and I thought I had just hyperextended my knees until I looked down and that wasn't the case,'' she said in an exclusive interview Monday.
"When I saw what had happened, that's when the pain kind of started to set in, and it got worse. It was a big, 'Oh shoot, what just happened?'''
Cerio drew an outpouring of support from across the country for her positive attitude after she dislocated both knees and tore multiple ligaments following an awkward landing during a floor routine at the NCAA Regionals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on April 5.
The video of the stomach-turning moment went viral. Cerio hit out at people sharing it in a tweet over the weekend, writing that her pain was "not your entertainment."
"I think it's made people more aware of what they see on the internet,'' she told TODAY. "When you see something like that, you kind of want to watch it just to see what happens, because you're curious about it, but at the same time, you don't think about the people that it could impact."
After the difficult ending to her gymnastics career, Cerio has set a new goal: to walk down the aisle at her wedding. The 22-year-old senior is engaged to Trey Wood, who thanked fans on Instagram for their support of Cerio and wrote that she is "too tough and stubborn to keep down."
Auburn head coach Jeff Graba called it "one of the toughest nights of my life."
"I told her that I loved her and that I was with her, and she said to go back and get the girls ready to finish this thing," he told NBC News.
Despite her injuries, the aerospace engineering major from North Carolina made it clear she was not going to be defined by the way her final performance ended. She left the sport with her head held high in an inspiring Instagram message two days later.
"After 18 years I am hanging up my grips and leaving the chalk behind,'' she wrote. "I couldn’t be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me to become. It’s taught me hard work, humility, integrity, and dedication, just to name a few."
Cerio is now working through the injuries to continue a bright future. She was named the Southeastern Conference co-scholar athlete of the year and has already has accepted a job in Seattle with Boeing working on rockets as a structural design analysis engineer.