ROCKINGHAM — “You got more gold than Mr. T got!” Eddie Dean said to his longtime friend Dawn Grooms as she put on the glistening gold medals she had won at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle earlier this month.
Grooms, 50, won gold medals in her singles and doubles bocce events, as well as a sixth-place ribbon in the team bocce event.
This year marked her first selection to the national team, after decades of competition at local and state levels.
The national competition also marked the first time her father, Bo, could watch her compete. Medical problems have forced him to stay in the shade at the events he’s able to make it to, and he spent the day in the emergency room during her doubles bocce event but was able to see her accept her medals during the awards ceremony.
“I’m just happy for her,” he said.
Shannon Iacovone, Grooms’s younger sister, said she saw her father cry several times during the week the family was in Seattle.
“To see the pride on his face was was incredible,” she said.
Grooms’s mother, Helen, said that after she won, Grooms said, “I told you I came to do my best.”
According to her mother, Grooms had never flown in a plane, and has a fear of stairs and escalators, but overcame all of that to compete at the games.
Helen Grooms, who noted that this year was the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics and that Grooms turned 50 the week after the games, attributed much of Grooms’s confidence to her comfort with her coach, Kevin Rumley, whom she interacted with only on two separate occasions during training for the games.
Rumley prayed with Grooms before each event, which was a “great part in how well she played,” her mother said.
“The fact that (Grooms) committed and made it all the way to Seattle with the team — that was huge,” Rumley said. “Over the last 10 days (of training), she transformed and blossomed … She tackled all those fears.
“By the end, she was right at home.”
Grooms was featured in the closing ceremony and was interviewed by Kenny Mayne of ESPN.
On stage in front of what Rumley said felt like a music festival-sized crowd, Mayne asked Grooms to list her favorite things about bocce, about the event as a whole and her thoughts on LeBron James’s moving to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Iacovone said she expected her sister to do well at the games, but “not that well.”
In the gold-medal game of the doubles event, Grooms and her partner, Stephanie Silver, were behind and had to push it into overtime tied at 16.
It was up to Grooms to make the winning throw.
Dean said she rolled her ball right up to the pallino ball (the smaller ball players try to get closest to), sealing the gold for her team.
Grooms, whom Iacovone said was talking to herself leading up to the big moment, said the only thing going through mind was the roll — and her friend Dean.
“I love her to death and for her to get selected — everyone in Richmond County was proud of her for that — but for her to go out and win makes me that much more proud,” Dean said.
Iacovone said playing in the Special Olympics had given Grooms a sense of self-worth and made her feel included in a way she wouldn’t be in other sports.
“Since she started the Special Olympics, she’s come out of her shell a lot,” Iacovone said. “She’s definitely a socialite.”
The Richmond County community stepped up before the games to make sure Grooms’s parents and two sisters could travel with her.
In June, VFW Post 4203 and the Ol’ Skool Tribe motorcycle club teamed up to hold the Special Olympics Team NC Bike Ride to raise money for the trip, and about 20 community members contributed individually for a total of $2,050, exceeding the original goal of $2,018, according to Grooms’s page on FirstGiving.com.
Helen Grooms said that although at least two would have gone regardless — they weren’t going to miss it — the whole family wouldn’t have been able to go without help from the community.
“People started responding (to the fundraiser) … Then it was like, ‘We can do this,’” Helen Grooms said.
Iacovone added: “It was well worth the cost to go.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.