When Seaford High School senior Nico Fiorello was crowned homecoming king, he was standing tall on his own two feet, cheered on by a chorus of his peers screaming "We love you, Nico!"
For the 17-year-old varsity lacrosse and soccer athlete, the ability to stand -- let alone walk -- at the school's homecoming game was a triumph considering that just four months ago, he didn't know if he would ever be able to walk again.
"I feel like the luckiest man alive," Fiorello said.
On May 17, Fiorello and his friends decided to take a break from studying to go for a swim at Jones Beach. It was early in beach season, but Fiorello decided to face the still-freezing waves and dive right in. But as he entered the water, his head collided with a sandbar, leaving him instantly paralyzed.
"All of a sudden I didn't feel my body," Fiorello said. "I was face down in the water, unable to move. I remember I just kept thinking over and over, 'I'm only 17, I'm going to drown, I just can't die yet.'"
Fellow Seaford seniors Tom Sabatino and Peter Couvaris pulled Fiorello out of the water, and he was rushed to Nassau University Medical Center for emergency neck surgery.
"We were told he was going to be paralyzed for the rest of his life," Lorraine Fiorello, Nico's mother, said. "But Nico is the type of boy where if you tell him he can't do something, he will do everything he can do overcome it."
Over the course of the summer, Fiorello worked with doctors at Nassau University and Kessler Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey to regain his ability to walk. In mid-July, Fiorello returned home from the hospital in a wheelchair. And on the first day of his senior year, he walked proudly into Seaford High School with the help of a walker.
"The overwhelming support of all my friends and family kept me going," Fiorello said. "I was shocked I could do it -- I spent so long with only the ability to move my big toe."
Fiorello's incredible recovery was honored by the Seaford community during the school's homecoming game, where he served as grand marshal before being crowned homecoming king. Fiorello was also awarded a special citation from Nassau County Leg. Steven Rhoads and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray.
"Nico's injury completely devastated the whole town," Lorraine Fiorello said. "But everyone has done nothing but help through all of this. It takes a village to overcome."
Fiorello is still receiving therapy to help regain movement in his right arm, but he's hopeful for a speedy recovery. He hopes to be back on the field playing lacrosse for the spring season in March.
"I really learned the value, what it means, to be able to walk," Fiorello said. "I feel so blessed."