Special Olympics RI

He won the big award, but gave it away

Posted 6/26/24

He’s been a champion for the Ocean State’s Special Olympians for years.

It was finally their turn to let Cranston Police Detective Eric LeClerc know how much they truly valued the …

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Special Olympics RI

He won the big award, but gave it away


He’s been a champion for the Ocean State’s Special Olympians for years.

It was finally their turn to let Cranston Police Detective Eric LeClerc know how much they truly valued the hours he gave them. But he didn’t keep the award long — he felt there was someone else more deserving.

Last month, Special Olympics Rhode Island (SORI), announced a dozen nominees for its inaugural Elwood Johnson Outstanding Service Award. The award was created to recognize exceptional members of the Rhode Island Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR RI) community.

From the dozen worthy nominees, one winner was chosen — Detective LeClerc (the award was presented at LETR RI’s 2024 Conference last month).

Immediately after receiving the award, LeClerc passed it on to someone else — the source of his daily inspiration.

“Receiving this award, named in honor of a man who has significantly advanced inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities, was a tremendous honor,” LeClerc said. “However, I felt it would be selfish to accept it, especially considering the dedication of many of my colleagues in law enforcement for the mission of Special Olympics.”

There was one particular Special Olympian with whom LeClerc felt compelled to share the award.

“My commitment to this cause stems from my daughter, Sofia, a joyful and spirited Special Olympics Rhode Island athlete with Down Syndrome,” he said. “Her remarkable achievements, despite her disability, have been my driving force in all my efforts for Special Olympics Rhode Island. Therefore, I chose to give the award to Sofia, as it truly belongs to her. She is the inspiration for me and my family, continually uplifting everyone she meets and serving as a mentor in our lives. Sofia reminds us all of life’s most important values: inclusion, respect, support, and love.”

SORI, a non-profit organization, has a clearly defined mission: provide “year-round sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities.”

Ed Pacheco, SORI President and CEO, presented the award to LeClerc.

“All the nominees for the inaugural Elwood Johnson Outstanding Service Award are exceptional individuals whose philanthropic work embodies the mission of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Rhode Island,” Pacheco said. “While it was challenging to choose just one recipient from such an exemplary group, Detective Leclerc’s longstanding dedication to the athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island and to the broader community stood out as a shining example of the selflessness exhibited by our LETR members from law enforcement, corrections, fire, and justice departments. Congratulations to Detective Leclerc, a remarkably humble individual who consistently goes above and beyond for our athletes, including his daughter Sofia, who inspired him to coach and raise funds and awareness for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.”

The award was established in honor of Elwood Johnson Jr., “a dedicated supporter of Special Olympics Rhode Island and longtime law enforcement member” to celebrate “individuals who embody the spirit of philanthropy and community impact,” according to SORI.

This year’s dozen honorees were all nominated by their respective departments, for demonstrating “unwavering dedication to providing opportunities for athletes with intellectual disabilities to empower themselves and their communities.”

LeClerc’s boss, Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael J. Winquist, said the organization couldn’t have chosen a more deserving father and police officer.

“Detective Eric LeClerc has dedicated countless hours to Special Olympics Rhode Island, serving in various roles, including coach, mentor, committee member, and ‘Super Plunger’ where he and members of his team, for 10 years, entered the frigid ocean waters at Salty Brine State Beach every hour for 24 hours in March to raise funds for SORI,” Winquist said. “He most recently participated in a 24-hour walk across Rhode Island to raise funds and awareness for SORI.”

Whether he’s organizing events, walking or plunging, LeClerc always commits fully, putting his all —body and spirit — into his efforts for SORI and LETR.

 “Detective LeClerc has always led the charge in coordinating the Cranston Police Department’s participation in many events, such as the annual Torch Run,” Winquist said. “His inspiration is his daughter, Sophia, who is a long-standing and well-known Special Olympics athlete. For all these reasons and more, Detective LeClerc embodies the highest moral character required to earn the Chief Elwood Johnson Outstanding Service Award.”


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