By Justin Limoges | Aug. 31, 2019, 2:36 p.m. (ET)

Steve Serio (11) in action during the men's wheelchair basketball gold medal match against Spain at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 

With the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 quickly coming to a close, there is a lot on the line for the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team.

Team USA secured its spot at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 with Friday’s semifinal win over Argentina and will next play Canada Saturday evening in the final. The U.S. has won four of the five previous Parapan American Games gold medals up for grabs and is eager to claim a fourth consecutive one.

The majority of the squad that won gold at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 is still on the national team and hopes to return to the Paralympics next year to defend gold. One of the returning veterans includes two-time Paralympic medalist Steve Serio, who has enjoyed continuing to represent Team USA in Peru.

“There’s nothing like being on Team USA, to wear those three letters across your chest, to experience what it’s like to walk into an opening ceremony and hear the crowd erupt and you’re with all your other Team USA Paralympians,” Serio said.

Serio, 31, captained the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team to glory three years ago. While Serio was new to the position, he felt there was no difficulty.

“I always tell people that when you’re the captain of a high-performance sport, it’s really just about making sure that the team stays focused on the goal,” Serio said. “We were so talented in Rio, that we didn’t necessarily need one leader.”

What many people don’t see, however, is how Serio and his teammates arrived at the dominant position that they’re in now.

Serio’s first Games experience took place at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008.

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While he and his teammates were contenders in Beijing, they fell short of the podium with a fourth-place finish after falling to Great Britain in the bronze-medal game.

Finishing in fourth was difficult for Serio to come back from, but he found that losing that game enabled him to get back up and push on.

“That was a really difficult time for me personally and athletically,” Serio recalled. “But I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my goal of winning a gold medal in Rio without that really difficult time in Beijing.”

“So, my advice to any athlete is to embrace the negative experiences as well as the positives because those negative experiences shape who you are both on and off the court.”

Since Beijing, Serio has gone on to win the bronze medal at the London 2012 Games and gold in Rio. For Serio, embracing the negatives has helped him become a better player and leader on the team.

His impressive resume also includes three silvers (2006, 2014, 2018) and a bronze (2010) at the IWBF Wheelchair Basketball World Championship.

Looking ahead, Serio has his sights set on what could be his final Paralympic experience.

“We have very high expectations on this team, so going in and thinking about just qualifying [for Tokyo 2020] really isn’t enough for us. We want to go down to Lima and accomplish our goal of bringing home the gold,” he said before the Games.

While winning gold in Lima and at the upcoming Paralympic Games are the ultimate goals for Serio and Team USA, he’s been taking more and more time to sit back and enjoy the moments – both positive and negative – while he can.

“As my career winds down, I really try to take in the experiences that I have with my teammates and my coaching staff,” Serio said. “This is not going to last forever and it’s very rare to have a chance to travel and compete and train with people that you truly love, people that are your family, and it’s something that I don’t take for granted anymore.”