Led by Cranston Police Officer Eric Leclerc and in support of the Special Olympics of Rhode Island, a four-member team will repeatedly leap into the frigid waters of Narragansett Bay in the hours leading up to this weekend’s seventh annual Torch Run Plunge at Warwick’s Goddard Memorial State Park.
“I am not only a father to an Olympian, but also a coach to these great athletes,” said Leclerc, whose team – dubbed “Super Plunge ‘Four’ Special Olympics” – will jump into the bay every hour on the hour for 24 hours starting at 1 p.m. March 1. “Watching these Olympians has given me the stamina and the ambition to do the 24-hour plunge and raise money for their sports and costs so that everyone is able to play no matter what their disability.”
Leclerc will be joined by Richmond Police Chief Elmwood Johnson, Jim Cummings and Bo Mathews on the “Super Plunge” team. Cummings and Mathews are civilians who have volunteered for the Special Olympics for more than 20 years.
“Our whole goal is to try to raise awareness and money for this organization,” said Leclerc.
The team’s final plunge will be at noon March 2, which coincides with the Torch Run Plunge. The Cranston Police Department’s Dive Team – of which Leclerc is a member – will also join in the final plunge.
The Torch Run event welcomes members of the public as well as law enforcement, fire and other public safety personnel to take the plunge in support of the Special Olympics. Participants must raise $50, and the event includes a party and lunch.
According to Leclerc’s fundraising page, www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/EricLeclerc/7th-annual-torch-run-plunge, the Cranston officer has exceeded his $5,000 goal and received $5,740 in donations. A 16-year veteran of the military, he returned in December from Afghanistan, where he had been serving his fourth overseas deployment as a member of the Air Force’s 282nd Combat Communications Squadron.
Leclerc said the “Super Plunge,” and the decision to support the Special Olympics in such a unique way, is personal. His stepdaughter, Sofia Illiano, has special needs, and though she often struggles “with the little things in everyday life … she never complains.”
“Watching her do the littlest of things that we take for granted, like climbing stairs or putting on her coat, being able to zipper it after trying for the third, fourth and fifth time, are milestones that she achieves after days, sometimes months, of practice,” he said. “Once the task is accomplished, the smile on her face is priceless.”
Leclerc also serves as a coach for Special Olympics athletes with the Lincoln All-Stars, a team that draws athletes from across northern New England. He coaches year-round, including basketball, bowling, swimming and golf, and said he is continually inspired by the athletes’ efforts.
“If you have ever been to an event, you will know the joy these athletes bring,” he said. “It is amazing to see the pure excitement and the enthusiasm of athletes competing in events and activities that most of us take for granted.”
Leclerc said those wishing to provide support may visit his fundraising site or send him a check payable to the Special Olympics at 23 Reynolds Ave., North Providence, RI 02911.
Dogs are welcome at the Torch Run Plunge. Registration for the event begins at 10 a.m. March 2.