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Senior Feature: Richard Sirio

By Joe Frescott, Sports Editor

“Maximum effort is the bare minimum. Stay happy, stay high. I may not win, but I refuse to lose.” 

Those are the words that Richard Sirio lives by today. But that wasn’t always the case. 

“I was a pretty sickly kid. Even though I did have a good childhood I was hospitalized every year until I was about ten or twelve because of allergies, asthma and other conditions. If I got the flu or pneumonia, I would immediately be hospitalized because there was no other option since it was too dangerous for me,” he admitted. “I started to, not necessarily grow out of it, but I was properly medicated so the hospital trips stopped. I still had my medical issues but I was prescribed steroid treatments for my eczema, as well as allergy and asthma medications. I put on a lot of weight because of this. From the start of puberty to around junior year of high school I was really heavy, almost morbidly obese. It was a bad part of growing up but I was still happy nonetheless.”

Despite the medical struggles that plagued his early years, Sirio thoroughly enjoyed his youth. 

“I had a pretty good childhood because I spent most of my time outside. I was not one of those indoor kids, I wasn’t an iPad kid. I had this whole group of friends in my neighborhood and we used to go outside to play basketball, roller hockey and frisbee,” he said. “In middle school, I learned how to throw cards, and so did my buddy. So we used to get a deck of cards, I would stand on my lawn, he used to stand on my neighbor’s lawn and we would play dodgeball with cards. It was a lot of fun.”

The youngest of two, Sirio had a built-in role model in his brother, Anthony. The only things that separated the two were 11 years of age and a different biological father.  

“The best way I could describe my relationship with my brother was that he was a second father figure… He changed my diapers, he fed me, he played with me when I was a kid. I looked up to him and I still do, he is the number one role model in my life because he was everything that I wasn’t. I was book smart, he was street smart. I was good in school, he was good with his hands. I was extroverted as a kid, he was very introverted. We were complete polar opposites. But I had this strange urge to be like him, I desperately wanted to be like my brother,” Sirio described. “He was – in every sense of the word – my brother was an asshole. He was the kind to make fun of you so that other people could laugh. He was callus, a bit of a jerk, but at the same time, he had this certain charisma around him that made you not really care. He could insult you and you could laugh about it.  He was always this wall that I could never get over. He was always stronger than me, he was always smarter than me, he was always cooler than me and he was always more grown than me. He was always this insurmountable wall that I always looked up to. I never actually wanted to scale that wall, I just wanted to be the same height. I never wanted to get over it because if I did, then that means I no longer look up to him.” 

Anthony Ciambrone was a larger-than-life figure in Sirio’s life. This was especially true in 2018, when he suffered a tragic loss. 

“I remember after my dad passed, he stepped up and we built a much stronger bond. At that time, I was still a rebellious teen and my friend Joel stole his mom’s car out of the driveway in the middle of the night and invited me to drive around with him at 2 a.m. on a school night. I remember the first time I got caught, my mom screamed at me and I brushed it off. Then the second time I got caught, my brother’s fiance at the time screamed at me and I brushed that off too. The third night that I did it, the next day rolled around and nobody said anything to me so I thought I was in the clear. Then I remember it was 8 p.m. and I heard my brother’s work boots stomping up the stairs, and I could tell he was angry. He swung my door open, pointed at me, didn’t say a word and just motioned me to come outside. He led me to the backyard and picked me up by the collar of my wife beater. He pressed me onto the side of my dad’s work van and said ‘where did you go last night’, I said ‘nowhere’. Then he said ‘I’m not gonna ask you again, where did you go last night’ I said ‘I swear I didn’t go anywhere’. Before I could even react I found myself on the floor, because my brother slapped me so hard I got rocked. My brother hadn’t touched me in years, I was too big for him to fight. He slapped the life out of me, picked me up and said ‘do i really need to ask you again?’ Just like that, I came clean. After that, in a very stern way, he basically said, ‘you’re getting older, dad is gone. Act right, don’t do this to mom.’ I looked up to him because he dealt with things in a way that never beat around the bush. He went straight to the problem and didn’t care how you felt about it. He was very admirable for that,” Sirio recalled.

2018 proved to be the most difficult of Sirio’s life. Just four months after his father, Big Rich passed away, Anthony crashed his motorcycle in an accident that cost him his life. Within four month’s time, the family of four turned to two and the two most important male role models in Sirio’s life were no longer with him. 

It is times like these that force an individual to make a choice. Let the overbearing weight of grief consume you, or fuel you. Rich chose the latter.

“When 2018 started I decided enough was enough. I was going to therapy, I was talking to people but it just wasn’t getting better. I had to work on it from the inside and look at my life from a third-person perspective and figure out what exactly needed to change in order for me to climb out of the hole… I had an option between two pains. I could either be in pain from being fat and lazy, always wishing that things were different, or I could choose the pain of effort, putting in the work and basically taking control of my life,” Sirio said. “I remember looking at myself in the mirror, fat Rich saying, ‘you’re going to change, you need to die. You need to die so I can live.’ So ever since then, I signed up for LA Fitness and I went there every day before school to run a 5k, even on the weekends. After that, I would lift for about an hour, then go into the sauna for twenty minutes, and I ended up dropping 40 pounds in 3 months.”

Sirio credits his high school Italian teacher, Mr. Drucker, and one school trip for helping change his life forever. 

“Every year the students in the Italian Honors Society had the opportunity to go to Italy for a school trip. It was a hefty sum, somewhere around $20,00 to go. Being in a single-parent household with one income, we could not afford that at the time. I wasn’t even part of the Italian Honors Society either. But, Mr Drucker pulled me aside one day after class and he said I want to talk to you about something. I thought it was because I was in trouble but, keep in mind, he attended both funerals of my dad and my brother. Instead of scolding me, he pulled me aside and he said, ‘Listen, I understand everything that you’re going through and I don’t want you to feel bad about what I’m about to tell you, because I want this for you.’ Then he said, ‘you’re going to Italy in May and I want you to be happy about it.’ I just remember tearing up and hugging him. It was a very, very pure and happy moment,” he said. 

With the weight lost and trip paid for, Sirio recalls the iconic, life-altering trip to Italy in 2019.

“I remember getting there and you could not wipe the smile off my face, from day one to day 11. We made our way from Turin to Rome and it was absolutely gorgeous. I remember going to this small island off the coast called Elba and that was the point where I was like ‘we did it, we got better,’” Sirio said. “All my life I was very self-conscious about taking my shirt off and how I looked around other people. But the island had a gorgeous beach with the cleanest water I have ever seen. Without skipping a beat, I took my shirt off, ran onto the beach, laid in the sand in pure bliss and I did not care who was looking. It was one of those moments when you’re genuinely proud of yourself.”

Sirio describes himself as “book smart,” but lacked the effort to make him a standout student. It wasn’t the books that he gravitated towards, but rather, the cameras.

“I remember I got put into an Italian class in freshman year, with a teacher who was not kind to my older brother when he was in her class. He was learning disabled and she called my mom in to tell her that he should not be in the class since he was ‘holding the rest of the student’s back.’ Safe to say, I transferred out of her class immediately after learning that information. In order to switch out, I had to be put into photography, which freshmen were not allowed to take since you needed to take studio art beforehand. I ended up taking both at the same time and was the only person in the history of my high school to take photography four years in a row. The teacher ended up having to get two new classes approved just to accommodate me and my group of upperclassmen friends.”

Finding his passion for photography in high school, he graduated from Comsewogue High School in 2020 and had photo opportunities on his mind when deciding what was next. 

“My college search was very anticlimactic. A lot of people put a lot of thought into where they go, I really didn’t care. There was no school that I was like ‘I need to go there.’ So I applied to all the SUNYs and two private universities. My two top picks were Binghamton and Stony Brook. I was waitlisted at Binghamton and deferred at Stony Brook. I can confidently say that I never got rejected from a college… It came down to LIU or St. John’s. I remember telling my mom ‘I don’t want to go to Queens.’ So I googled pictures of the campus here at Post, saw the Labyrinth, the Arches and said to myself ‘Pretty campus. I’m in.’”

Choosing to dorm at the university, Sirio’s move-in day was unique, to say the least.  

“It just so happened that on my first day of college, I ended up in the hospital where I was born. I’m a big longboarder, and right when I stepped foot on this campus I noticed how it was all rolling hills and I was a kid in a candy store. The first thing I did after setting up my room was test all the hills. I saw the big hill on the east gate right behind my dorm and decided I was definitely going down that, but after all the other hills. So just in case I die, at least I got to skate all the other hills beforehand. When I got to east gate hill, I decided it would be a good idea to go straight down instead of carving to slow myself down. Midway through I had a movie scene moment where everything slowed down. In that split second, I realized I had two options. The first was to keep going straight, slam into the closed gate and watch my board go into Northern Boulevard and end up destroyed. The second was to somehow make the 90-degree turn into the mid-renovation parking lot to my right. I decided, well at least I could maybe save my board. I somehow, to this day I don’t understand how I made that turn, but I made the turn into the parking lot, and skated on gravel for about 10 feet until a big rock bit my wheel. My board stayed still and I kept going. I slid about twenty feet on straight gravel. Right after, I got up, walked back to the dorm acting like nothing happened,” Sirio described. “I remember walking through the doors of the dorm with no shirt on, seeing the RAs and just saying ‘Do you guys have paper towels?’ and they motioned me to the bathroom to the left. So I naturally turned to the left, but now they could see the side that I fell on. All I hear is the girl go, ‘Oh my god, I’m calling an ambulance!’ My whole right side was chopped up with road rash, gravel in my wounds and I’m like oozing, it was bad. This was not even an hour after my mom went home. My mom ended up just walking through the door of my home when I called her and she had to drive another hour back to Manhasset hospital to come get me.”

The recovery process was painful but led to a bond that would last for years to come. 

“I actually ended up getting the wrong gauze. I was supposed to get non-stick gauze, but I didn’t. So basically what was happening was the gauze was fusing with my skin and I reopened my wounds every time I needed to change the gauze and it hurt like hell. I remember being in the bathroom one day trying to change my gauze, tears streaming down my face, just trying to get it off bit by bit,” Sirio said. “This guy came into the bathroom and he said ‘Yo, are you good bro? What happened?’ I told him the whole story and he ended up helping me change my gauze and informed me that there was non-stick gauze. That gentleman ended up being Logan [Bolhouse], my roommate and very close friend for the rest of my college career.”

Coming into LIU undecided, Sirio mulled a few options before settling on the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in the fine arts of journalism.

“The major changes happened because I am a photographer by trade and I didn’t know which major would suit me best. A photography major is useless, it won’t open any doors and essentially just proves you can work a camera, which I do with my work. Basically, I was looking for other options to use photography that could propel my career. I started as liberal arts, and then went into business thinking I could learn enough to be able to run my own photography business. I hated it, so I moved to psychology. My thought was I could understand how people’s brains work, what they like to see, then take pictures of it. Don’t get me wrong. Psychology is a fun major and I was very interested in it, but it wasn’t gonna help me at all. Not one bit. After that, I felt like I was at a dead end. So I went back to the dream, which was to be a photographer for National Geographic. Travel the world and take captivating images. So I was at a loss. And do you know what college kids do when they don’t know what to do? You go to Google. I typed in the search box ‘How to become a photographer for National Geographic?’ The first answer was to get a journalism degree. So I immediately switched to journalism and here we are,” he detailed.

Spending the last three years in the Communications Department, Sirio expanded his photography knowledge and portfolio through The Tide, as he was named the Photo Editor his sophomore year and published his work bi-weekly through the photo spread contained in each issue. That was not the only benefit he got from his time at LIU. 

“I learned how to be my own entity and function in society as my own person rather than someone’s son. That was a big shift between high school and college that I feel like a lot of people understand and grasp quickly… The relationships that you build in college are more substantial because you are all your own people. There are no popular kids or groups you have to join. You choose who you spend your time with and that leads to a deeper connection among college kids… If you can synergize with another person while having the stress of college that truly means something,” he claimed.

Although Sirio’s time at LIU is described as “transformative,” he is ready to start the next chapter of his life.

“I am more than excited to get out of here. I have done my due diligence. I have done the work that needed to be done. I’ve done enough where I feel like I did everything I needed to do here and I am ready to make money and move on to be a contributor to society,” he said. “I am in prep at the moment for my first bodybuilding show in June. I need to get to a routine and put my head down these next two months and give it my all. This is a big moment in my life that fat Rich never thought that he would be a part of and he would be puzzled at the fact that I am here. It is gonna tie up a lot of loose ends in my childhood and self-perception. It is going to be a big highlight in my life. I’m glad that I have the confidence in myself through the things I have gone through and done to say that I’m gonna step on stage and be ready”

Although his life has been complicated thus far, his hobbies are rather simple.

“I smoke weed and I watch anime. Those are my hobbies besides weightlifting. Anime was my childhood. Shows like Dragon Ball made me care about my self-image. I wanted to be big and strong like them and always push for greater heights. It is entertaining and always has a simple, yet powerful message depending on what you watch,” Sirio describes. “I have had a complicated relationship with cannabis over the course of my life. It makes me feel closer to my dad and brother because that was their vice as well. I was never exposed to it as a kid, but I knew. It was more of a way to connect with the two most important male role models in my life more than anything else and that is what it has been for years. I’ve had phases in my life where I used it unhealthily and it was a crutch. I have developed a more healthy relationship now where I only smoke before bed, mostly to address my sleeping problems… I am very knowledgeable about it. I’m covering the topic for my senior thesis; learning about the recreational taxes, the economy, how people perceive it, and the future of it. There are a lot of people who still have the stigma and aren’t open to hearing about the benefits. It is my hope that one-day dispensaries are seen just as commonly as liquor stores and there is no stigma about it.”

Sirio has lived a million lives at just 22 years of age. Although he remains unsure of what is next for him, nothing can hit him harder than life already has, and if there is one takeaway from this profile, it is that there is no quit in Rich.

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