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Special Olympics gold puts smile on Penn Township teen's face

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By Heidi Dezayas
Friday, Sept. 4, 2009

As Robert Grolemund walks out of his room, several medals and ribbons adorn his neck. A big smile on his face, Robert shows off his latest win -- a gold medal in the state Special Olympics for freestyle swimming.

Robert's mother, Cassandra, smiles and says, "You know how Mr. T wears all those chains around his neck• I always say Robert looks like Mr. T with all those medals."

Robert has trisomy 22, a disorder that gives him three -- instead of the usual two -- copies of the 22nd chromosome. It is similar to Down syndrome, which is caused by a third 21st chromosome.

Robert, 15, started competing in the Special Olympics three years ago through the Clairview School of Greensburg, a school for children with special needs in Westmoreland County.

The Penn Township teen competes in swimming, track and field, bowling and golf Special Olympics events. His favorite, clearly, is swimming. In July, Robert went to Penn State University, where he won his gold medal in freestyle swimming and a fourth-place ribbon in the backstroke event.

When Robert came home from the event, he couldn't wait to tell his mother he had won.

"I surprised her big time," he says with a grin.

Mom laughs as she recalls the day.

"I went to the school to pick him up, and I was putting his suitcase in the trunk," she says. "I asked him how he did and he said, 'Not so good,' and he reached out and pulled out his fourth-place ribbon. Then, he said, 'The really bad news is that I got a gold medal,' and he pulled it out of his shorts pocket.

"I started screaming and jumping up and down. He must have practiced that on the way home."

Robert competed against people ages 12 to 40 from throughout the state. He trained throughout the school year and practice at his uncle's pool helped him get better.

"I compete against people that are in school and not in school," he says. "It's tough facing different people that have more speed than you do. I get a lot faster in the winter when swimming (training) starts."

Robert qualified for the state Special Olympics at Penn State after qualifying in the Westmoreland County swimming events.

Cassandra Grolemund is proud of her son.

"Everyone in my family is a big swimmer, but no one has accomplished what he has," she says. "We're all quite proud of him."

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