How Officer Erica Ireland’s First Cruiser Convoy Sparked an 18-year Journey with Special Olympics

May 20, 2024
Erica Ireland speaking at a community stop during the 2023 Final Leg.

For Officer Erica Ireland, her 18-year involvement with Special Olympics Massachusetts began when she joined the West Springfield Police Department back in 2005. Erica, a newly minted police officer, found herself drawn into the world of Special Olympics in a way that would re-shape her career and her life. It all started with a magazine ad in 2006, which asked Police Departments around the state to participate in the Special Olympics MA Summer Games Cruiser Convoy.  

“I asked our Chief if I could represent the West Springfield Police Department, and represent us becoming involved with Special Olympics,” she explained. “I took it by the reins, and I have not stopped.”

Her first encounter with Special Olympics MA at the 2006 Summer Games left a lasting mark, as Erica vividly recalls the overwhelming sight of athletes welcoming law enforcement officers with open arms.  

“It was amazing just to see all the athletes welcoming us into their Summer Games and you know, we're there to cheer them on but they were cheering us on as we were arriving with the lights and sirens of the cruisers,” she said. “Being able to give them the medals and the awards that they were well deserving of, and seeing the camaraderie with other departments across the state that were there, networking with other officers that had the same big hearts as I did really meant a lot. It got me hooked.”  

From cheering athletes on during Summer Games and local tournaments, to participating in fundraising events like COP On Tops, Polar Plunges, and 5Ks, Erica's commitment to the mission of Special Olympics has become instrumental. As she became more deeply involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), Erica witnessed its massive growth over the past two decades.  

Erica at the 2024 Western MA Polar Plunge, helping an athlete recite the Special Olympics Athlete's Oath.

“Just having more departments become aware of the special bond that Law Enforcement Officers have with Special Olympics and athletes, being able to spread the word is the best,” she said. “I go into the police academies before the recruits have graduated. They all have to do a community service project in the Academy, so we invite them to our Polar Plunges or our 5Ks that we have in the area. They meet some of the athletes and you know, just get them hooked a little bit and the rest is history. They'll be involved with Law Enforcement Torch Run forever.”

It was no surprise that when Special Olympics MA announced its own Final Leg leading into the 2023 Summer Games last year, Erica was one of the first to raise her hand and join the team.  

“It was about time. I was very excited that [the Final Leg] was finally coming here to Massachusetts,” said Erica. “I was hopeful that I could be involved with the Final Leg run, and this last year was my first time being invited. The partnerships that we were able to speak at, the friendships between LETR and athletes who are involved with the Final Leg team will last a lifetime.”

She relished every moment—from running the track with children at Salem Elementary School to visiting historic landmarks like the USS Constitution. In reflecting on her experience last year, Erica knew she would keep coming back for more.  

Erica (front right) holding the torch with the 2023 Final Leg team.

“It was a great experience. It was the stories that came out of it, the fun, the inside jokes and humor,” she said. “I would love to come back for every single Final Leg that this state has, or any run around the world, it’s an amazing experience.”

For Erica, the partnership between Law Enforcement and Special Olympics is about more than just fundraising—it’s about being role models and acting as the foundation for inclusion across the commonwealth.

“There's no such thing as a disability, it's just people having different abilities and different levels of enthusiasm and going out there and functioning in society,” said Erica. “It's all about inclusion and we are promoting that and we don't hold back.”

Erica Ireland speaking at a community stop during the 2023 Final Leg.

For Officer Erica Ireland, her 18-year involvement with Special Olympics Massachusetts began when she joined the West Springfield Police Department back in 2005. Erica, a newly minted police officer, found herself drawn into the world of Special Olympics in a way that would re-shape her career and her life. It all started with a magazine ad in 2006, which asked Police Departments around the state to participate in the Special Olympics MA Summer Games Cruiser Convoy.  

“I asked our Chief if I could represent the West Springfield Police Department, and represent us becoming involved with Special Olympics,” she explained. “I took it by the reins, and I have not stopped.”

Her first encounter with Special Olympics MA at the 2006 Summer Games left a lasting mark, as Erica vividly recalls the overwhelming sight of athletes welcoming law enforcement officers with open arms.  

“It was amazing just to see all the athletes welcoming us into their Summer Games and you know, we're there to cheer them on but they were cheering us on as we were arriving with the lights and sirens of the cruisers,” she said. “Being able to give them the medals and the awards that they were well deserving of, and seeing the camaraderie with other departments across the state that were there, networking with other officers that had the same big hearts as I did really meant a lot. It got me hooked.”  

From cheering athletes on during Summer Games and local tournaments, to participating in fundraising events like COP On Tops, Polar Plunges, and 5Ks, Erica's commitment to the mission of Special Olympics has become instrumental. As she became more deeply involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), Erica witnessed its massive growth over the past two decades.  

Erica at the 2024 Western MA Polar Plunge, helping an athlete recite the Special Olympics Athlete's Oath.

“Just having more departments become aware of the special bond that Law Enforcement Officers have with Special Olympics and athletes, being able to spread the word is the best,” she said. “I go into the police academies before the recruits have graduated. They all have to do a community service project in the Academy, so we invite them to our Polar Plunges or our 5Ks that we have in the area. They meet some of the athletes and you know, just get them hooked a little bit and the rest is history. They'll be involved with Law Enforcement Torch Run forever.”

It was no surprise that when Special Olympics MA announced its own Final Leg leading into the 2023 Summer Games last year, Erica was one of the first to raise her hand and join the team.  

“It was about time. I was very excited that [the Final Leg] was finally coming here to Massachusetts,” said Erica. “I was hopeful that I could be involved with the Final Leg run, and this last year was my first time being invited. The partnerships that we were able to speak at, the friendships between LETR and athletes who are involved with the Final Leg team will last a lifetime.”

She relished every moment—from running the track with children at Salem Elementary School to visiting historic landmarks like the USS Constitution. In reflecting on her experience last year, Erica knew she would keep coming back for more.  

Erica (front right) holding the torch with the 2023 Final Leg team.

“It was a great experience. It was the stories that came out of it, the fun, the inside jokes and humor,” she said. “I would love to come back for every single Final Leg that this state has, or any run around the world, it’s an amazing experience.”

For Erica, the partnership between Law Enforcement and Special Olympics is about more than just fundraising—it’s about being role models and acting as the foundation for inclusion across the commonwealth.

“There's no such thing as a disability, it's just people having different abilities and different levels of enthusiasm and going out there and functioning in society,” said Erica. “It's all about inclusion and we are promoting that and we don't hold back.”

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