07/18/06 — Special Olympian brings medal home to Wayne

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Special Olympian brings medal home to Wayne

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 18, 2006 1:46 PM

Erica Walderman has brought Olympic gold back home to Wayne County.

The 22-year-old Special Special Olympian recently captured first place at the first Special Olympics USA national games, held in Iowa in early July, earning the gold medal in golf for the women's division.

Erica was a member of the golf team competing in the Women's 9-Hole Individual Stroke competition. Last fall, she was named Wayne County's representative on the Special Olympic North Carolina to participate in the national event.

Erica Walderman

Photo submitted

Erica Walderman after winning the gold medal in golf at the first Special Olympics USA national games held recently in Iowa.

The Olympian and her mother, Debi, along with Special Olympians from around the country got a ride to the event from volunteer pilots participating in the fifth Citation Special Olympics Airlift. The Cessna Citation was furnished by the Del Haize Corp., the parent company of Food Lion Supermarkets.

Erica's father, Rich, Special Olympics Wayne County coordinator, traveled on a charter flight with 46 other members of the North Carolina delegation and 130 South Carolina athletes and coaches.

But once he got to Iowa, he had a more important job. He was his daughter's caddie.

Practice rounds were held at a golf club prior to the actual competition, Walderman said. And then came the opening ceremonies, which were hosted by TV personality Tom Arnold and Maria Shriver, whose mother, Eunice, founded the Special Olympics.

"There were approximately 1,200 athletes from 35 states and the District of Columbia," Walderman described. "As each state delegation was announced, they were greeted to the cheers of thousands of volunteers, spectators and family members."

Describing the tough competition that led to his daughter's win, Walderman said the course was challenging, but by the end of the first day, Erica led the field by six shots.

"During the second round, Erica kick-started her round with her first-ever birdie on the par 3, third hole. Erica holed a 60-foot chip shot for a score of two. She finished her round, improving her previous day's score by three shots and had a 14-shot lead going into the last day of competition," he said.

In the third round, the women's teams were split up to give them the opportunity to play against golfers from other states, Walderman said. Erica's competition was from Iowa and Missouri.

Improving her score by three shots, Erica emerged as the winner of the gold medal. But the best part of the games, she said, "was meeting old friends and making new ones."

Walderman said he took the opportunity to play the course the day after the competition wrapped up.

"I now give those athletes even more credit for their play over the previous three days," he said. "The greens were a lot faster and tougher than I originally thought, a lot of subtle breaks."

Other events held during the national contest included weight-lifting, basketball, aquatics, gymnastics, track and field, volleyball and softball.

It was an exhilarating week, Walderman said.

"The memories will last a lifetime and now that it was over, it was great to get back to Wayne County, Goldsboro and home," Walderman said.

Erica is a 2005 graduate of Eastern Wayne High School. She is now preparing for the fall games in High Point, where she will vie for her sixth consecutive gold medal in golf.