For athletes like Steve Serio, Toyota’s $5M Paralympic investment is a game-changer


Steve Serio made his first Paralympic team in 2008 and became a gold medalist in 2016. In 13 years playing wheelchair basketball on the top international level, he’s never seen something of the magnitude that one of his sponsors, Toyota, is launching before Tokyo.

Toyota announced Monday what it calls a first-of-its-kind program: nearly $5 million in stipends and sponsorship opportunities to all U.S. Paralympic hopefuls for the Tokyo Games the open Aug. 24 and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

“There’s been a number of different ways sponsors have engaged in the Paralympic movement,” Serio said, “but it’s never had a direct impact the way that this will for the Paralympic athletes going to Tokyo and the athletes that are currently in the pipeline for future Paralympics.”

As part of the new Toyota U.S. Paralympic Fund, a one-time stipend of $3,000 is being offered to U.S. Paralympic sport athletes in contention to make the teams for Tokyo and Beijing. Individuals can add donations at

More than 300 athletes competed for the U.S. between the 2016 and 2018 Paralympics, with many more hopefuls who trained throughout the quads but didn’t make the team.

Athletes also have the opportunity to opt-in to sponsorship opportunities with Toyota, which in 2015 became the global mobility partner for the International Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee from 2017-24.

Serio has been sponsored by Toyota since 2019. He is one of 17 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic summer sport athletes that the company supports, eight of which are Paralympians.

“They [Toyota] truly treat us as athletes first,” he said. “They see us as equals in the eyes of our Olympic counterparts. We still kind of fight for that equality each and every day.”

The investment could lead to athletes extending their careers in sports where earnings don’t always cover expenses. And an increase in the exposure of the Paralympics.

The latter could have benefited a young Serio. He was diagnosed with a spinal tumor at 11 months old. Surgery to remove it resulted in partial paralysis.

In his early teens, Serio was largely unfamiliar with wheelchair basketball — and completely unaware of the Paralympics — even though the sport has been on the Paralympic program since the first Games in 1960.

He played with able-bodied athletes in middle school, but the local high school board on Long Island refused to let him play due to safety and liability reasons. It was the first time in his life he felt disabled.

“When I went down to my first wheelchair basketball practice, I didn’t have any expectations. I didn’t know anything about the game,” he said. “I kind of thought to myself that they played on these little Fisher-Price hoops because there’s no way you can shoot on a 10-foot hoop sitting in a wheelchair. I just didn’t understand the mechanics of it.”

At 15, he began playing for the Long Island Lightning, the only competitive junior wheelchair basketball team in the state of New York.

“I remember sitting in a chair for the first time and feeling like this was what I was meant to do from the very beginning,” he said. “It’s my escape from the world.”

Two years later, Serio was good enough to play for Team USA. He made his first Paralympic team in 2008, earned his first medal in 2012 (bronze) and was a co-captain on the 2016 team that took gold. Serio neared triple-doubles in the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final win over Spain.

“A captain is supposed to be the glue,” Serio said. “He’s supposed to be the person who gives the team what they need at that moment.”

Serio is now 33, playing club ball in Germany and taking his international career year to year. He is one of 14 finalists for the 12-man roster for Tokyo.

“When you have a disability, the world reminds you of what you can’t do every single day,” he said. “Through sport, I have learned to embrace my differences to succeed on the court by being resilient, but also inspire people with disabilities to demand more for this life.”

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IOC recommends how Russia, Belarus athletes can return as neutrals

Thomas Bach

The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.

The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.

Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.

He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.

Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”

“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.

Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.

“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”

The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.

If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.

The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.

In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.

Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.

Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”

World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.

On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.

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Summer McIntosh breaks 400m freestyle world record, passes Ledecky, Titmus

Summer McIntosh

Summer McIntosh broke the women’s 400m freestyle world record at Canada’s swimming trials on Tuesday night, becoming at 16 the youngest swimmer to break a world record in an Olympic program event since Katie Ledecky a decade ago.

McIntosh clocked 3 minutes, 56.08 seconds in Toronto. Australian Ariarne Titmus held the previous record of 3:56.40, set last May. Before that, Ledecky held the record since 2014, going as low as 3:56.46.

“Going into tonight, I didn’t think the world record was a possibility, but you never know,” McIntosh, who had quotes from Ledecky on her childhood bedroom wall, said in a pool-deck interview moments after the race.

McIntosh’s previous best time was 3:59.32 from last summer’s Commonwealth Games. She went into Tuesday the fourth-fastest woman in history behind Titmus, Ledecky and Italian Federica Pellegrini.

She is also the third-fastest woman in history in the 400m individual medley and the 11th-fastest in the 200m butterfly, two events she won at last June’s world championships. She is the world junior record holder in those events, too.

MORE: McIntosh chose swimming and became Canada’s big splash

McIntosh, Titmus and Ledecky could go head-to-head-to-head in the 400m free at the world championships in July and at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Titmus is the reigning Olympic champion. Ledecky is the reigning world champion, beating McIntosh by 1.24 seconds last June while Titmus skipped the meet.

The last time the last three world record holders in an Olympic program event met in the final of a major international meet was the 2012 Olympic men’s 100m breaststroke (Brendan Hansen, Kosuke Kitajima, Brenton Rickard).

Ledecky, whose best events are the 800m and 1500m frees, broke her first world record in 2013 at 16 years and 4 months old.

McIntosh is 16 years and 7 months old and trains in Sarasota, Florida, which is 160 miles down Interstate 75 from Ledecky in Gainesville.

McIntosh, whose mom swam at the 1984 Olympics and whose sister competed at last week’s world figure skating championships, is the youngest individual world champion in swimming since 2011.

In 2021, at age 14, she became the youngest swimmer to race an individual Olympic final since 2008, according to She was fourth in the 400m free at the Tokyo Games.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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