As a football fanatic, Dylan Groom (Hall 2006-2010) had never followed rugby. That all changed when he met one of the Chiefs’ top players.
“I’ve got to meet this guy” was Dylan Groom’s reaction when told he and Chiefs back Robbie Fruean had both had recent major heart surgery.
An introduction at the Chiefs training gym was arranged and the pair hit it off instantly.
“Robbie was the most humble person you could meet, he felt more like a friend than a super star,” says Groom.
For Groom, it was much more than just rubbing shoulders with a top sportsman. For the first time he felt someone else could truly understand what he had been through.
“When Robbie and I sat down, he was speaking my language. He had similar stories that I did and we could relate to each other.”
“Obviously when I came out of my heart surgery, I talked to people, my family and friends, and they could help me through it and listen but they couldn’t actually relate to it.”
Groom, 21, had the surgery in November 2012, to repair a hole in his heart related to major health problems he had as a youngster.
The first of Robbie’s two open heart surgeries were carried out in 2008, to repair damage after he caught rheumatic fever as a teenager.
The meeting was set up through Chiefs assistant coach, Andrew Strawbridge, the father of one of the children Groom coached in football.
Up until this meeting, Groom had very little to do with rugby, having always been a “football man.”
“Even though it was rugby and I am a footballer, I just absolutely loved what they were doing. And I wanted to be a professional sportsman.”
The meeting at the Chiefs training gym at Ruakura also allowed Dylan to meet Chiefs coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith.
Groom says his medical history would “blow anyone’s mind.”
It started when he was just a few months old and diagnosed with an AV malformation of the vein of Galen (an aneurysm in the brain).
“I went to France for lifesaving surgery as there was only one person in the world who could do the surgery. I went there three times for five operations. So it was pretty major.”
It was a tough time for Groom’s family who on one occasion was met by an ambulance on the tarmac at an airport in France so Groom could have surgery immediately. Because of his health problems earlier in life Groom has had regular medical appointments his whole life.
“I have had regular check-ups since when I was a youngster until I was 18 or 19 then they rang me up one day and said they have found something else. And it all started again.”
In November 2012 Groom had a 4 ½ hour operation at Auckland Hospital to repair a hole in his heart and a valve on the wrong side of his heart.
“I was in hospital for 5 or 6 days and woke up in intensive care in a pretty bad way.
Groom says he wanted to get out of hospital as soon as he could, but jokes “I came out with a pretty good scar for the girls.”
Groom has bounced back from the surgery and a big focus is keeping fit and healthy. He was even back playing football six months after the operation.
“Every day I go to the gym and I go for runs. I have turned into a bit of a fitness freak; I want to help motivate people from my own experience.”
Groom’s mum Angela has just finished a book about the health issues he has overcome.
Groom’s bond with St Paul’s started well before he arrived at the school in 2000. His father Michael Groom, a former All White, is a long time St Paul’s English teacher and football coach.
“When I was really young I was coming here and got to know all of the football boys. I have been coming to training since I was about 10.”
“I have very fond memories, and made some life-long friends. It was an amazing experience.”
“I wasn’t really one for the classroom. I tried my best. I wasn’t a diligent academic, but I was quite interested in English and Tourism. I liked the subjects where my favourite teachers were.”
He says his teachers went “above and beyond” to help him get all the credits he needed for NCEA. “I can’t thank the teachers enough.”
Groom is still heavily involved in football and has worked at the Waikato Soccer Centre as a coach. The health scare had one unexpected outcome. He started writing poetry, and earlier this year he had a poem published in an anthology of football poetry that coincided with the Soccer World Cup in Brazil.
The poem “Football” reflected the importance of soccer in his life when he “went under the knife.”
He attended the launch of the book at the Brazilian Embassy in Wellington with his father who spoke.
“I got out of hospital and I started writing poetry. I wanted to say some things about my time in hospital and I started writing it down one night. I wasn’t ever one for writing and this just came out.”
Next year Dylan intends to study Sports Science at Wintec. “I am pretty motivated through my own experience to do that.”
He has been given the all clear from his heart specialist. “I went to see him about eight weeks later and he was like, go be normal, be a normal kid.”
Groom plays senior football along with his father and brothers, and helps coach juniors.
He also now keenly follows the fortunes of the Chiefs.