Final-Leg RunnerLt. James Diana - Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement. Since 1995, Jim…
The relationship between cousins is often a special one, and in the case of Sgt. Gary Fournier (Delaware State Police), the word “special” is the perfect term, literally and figuratively, to describe the bond he has with one of his.
David Robillard is a Special Olympics athlete who competes in bowling, shotput, softball, and various other events in the summer and winter games hosted by Special Olympics New York. Some of Fournier’s fondest memories growing up include tagging along with his own father to watch their nephew/cousin compete.
“My father would often take us to his sporting events and volunteer his time to help, so seeing the interaction between David and the other athletes is what motivated me to continue to want to volunteer with the greatest athletes in the world,” Fournier explained.
Fournier’s involvement with Special Olympics Delaware dates back 25 years to when he was a young recruit attending the Delaware State Police Academy. As they still are today, the recruits were encouraged to take part in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run and so Fournier did just that, and without any hesitation.
“David inspires me to do my best and he is one of the reasons I’m involved in Special Olympics,” Fournier explained. “He goes out every day with the desire to make everyone around him smile and be happy. David never gives up and that’s a true Olympian, and a ‘hero’ in my eyes.”
Since that initial Torch Run, Fournier’s involvement has expanded both in terms of positions held and time spent volunteering, and it has been those ongoing efforts spanning multiple decades that earned him the title of 2022 “Winnie Spence Torch Runner of the Year.”
“Absolutely elated,” Fournier shared of his reaction when he was notified of the honor which is annually bestowed upon a law enforcement officer who has greatly impacted the movement over a long period of time. “It gives me great pleasure to represent the State Police and all the torch runners throughout the state. The honor is really just being a part of the great organization that Special Olympics Delaware is.”
In 2012, Gary became a member on the Delaware Law Enforcement for Special Olympics Executive Committee where he served in Kent County as a fundraiser and leg coordinator for the Torch Run for many years. In addition, one of his biggest contributions statewide on the committee was using his experience as a Public Information Officer with the state police to ensure messaging related to the Torch Run events and activities, as well as its purpose, was effectively relayed to the public and media across the state.
“In the recent years, Law Enforcement Officers have been in the media for negative issues,” Fournier said. “What some people don’t realize is the majority of law enforcement officers spend their on- and off-duty time volunteering for a variety of charitable events such as Special Olympics. The bonds created between the athletes and officers last a lifetime and are captured through the camera’s lens, shining that positive light back on law enforcement.”
Another work title that Fournier parlayed to benefit Special Olympics was his role as State Police Motorcycle Supervisor. Fournier is the coordinator for motorcycle escorts for several SODE events including the Torch Run, Ride to the Tide and Truck Convoy. It is a fact that the “no-stops” components of the motorcycle and truck “rides” make those events so appealing to participants compared to other similar fundraisers around the region that don’t have the benefit of that piece.
“We hear all the time from our drivers in both events that what makes them such a huge draw is not only the cause itself, but the logistical efforts of the motorcycle escorts to make it such a pleasurable and safe ride with no stops,” said Lisa Smith, director of marketing and development for SODE. “Gary has the keen ability to coordinate motorcycles from departments across the state. It takes a special person and personality to accomplish that, and we are blessed to have him in that role.”
Fournier is also involved as either a volunteer, participant, or in some cases, both, at events such as Dodgeball Madness, Over the Edge, 5k Run to the Plunge and the Polar Bear Plunge. Fournier’s noteworthy involvement over the years has led to other prestigious opportunities including being awarded the distinct honor of representing Delaware in the 2019 Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics Final Leg at the World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“There are so many feelings describing the incredible experience I had traveling to the Final Leg,” he recalled. “The athletes that ran with us were eager to be a part of our team and were true ambassadors to their country. Being selected to run the Torch across their remarkable country was something I will never forget and was an absolute honor.”
At the 2022 Summer Games Opening Ceremony, Fournier will have the honor of presenting the “Flame of Hope” to the Athlete of the Year, Steve Dagg. It will be one more opportunity to present an athlete with a symbol of accomplishment, much like he has done countless other times over the years.
“My favorite role is to present the athletes with their medals,” he said. “And just like David, the smiles and jubilation they have speaking about their sport and how they won, resonates in my mind of when we would visit David and he would bring his medals down from his room to show us.”