This year’s Golden Apple Award goes to a guy who has dedicated his life to health and fitness in the Monrovia community.
Three years ago, Eric LeClair of the Team CrossFit Elite Fitness Academy was contacted by Monrovia Unified School District to direct their Employee Wellness Program. Since then, LeClair has also provided support to local students by training several of athletic teams. LeClair will be honored by the district for his efforts in a breakfast ceremony on Feb. 17 at the Santa Anita Golf Course.
In the first year of the Employee Wellness Program, LeClair’s gym issued 18 free six-week training sessions to reward participants who excelled in the program. LeClair said that three years later, nine of those 18 winners are still working out at his gym. Over the last three years, LeClair and his staff have also worked with many Monrovia High School students. The academy has donated much of the time spent with the schools.
"We saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community," LeClair said.
The first athletic team the Team CrossFit Academy worked with was the Monrovia High School girls soccer team. After the first year, the soccer team raised money to continue training with the academy. When they fell short of their goal, they were able to make up for it by donating service hours to clean the facilities.
Currently, the Monrovia High School wrestling team is also training with the academy.
LeClair has also worked with the schools’ PE teachers to develop improved fitness programs.
"We had a round robin discussion on motivating children," LeClair said.
They also recreated fitness plans to better meet the criteria of the fitness tests.
"We’ll see what the scores look like this next year," he said.
In the meantime, Monrovia High School was in the middle of acquiring a new gymnasium and needed better training facilities for their teams. LeClair met with the football and wrestling coaches to discuss the possibility of using his gym to improve the fitness of their athletes. The football team had come in second place nine times at the CIF championship, and the coaches wanted this year to be different.
"These guys were all about change," LeClair said. "We got carte blanche on how to train the boys."
Over the summer, they locked down the facility and trained 186 boys on the freshman, junior varsity, and varsity football teams for 10 weeks. School coaches were also present and backed them up on disciplinary issues. As a result, the boys’ fitness and performance skyrocketed, and they were also the most injury-free they’d ever been in a training season.
In the end, the ultimate proof of their success was when Coach Maddox led the .
"We came to do all the right things for all the right people for all the right reasons," LeClair said. He added that it was a combination of a great team, coaches, training, and attitude that made them so successful.
"And who benefited? The kids! Champions," he said.
"I really think that was what the children deserved," he added.
According to an MUSD bulletin about the 2011 Golden Apple Award winner, "Eric and his amazing CrossFit team have gone above and beyond to provide support and service to many in MUSD. They attend every football game in addition to finding volunteers to assist with working at our games in times of need."
The space inside of LeClair’s Team Crossfit Academy is mostly austere. It’s not designed to make people feel comfortable, but to inspire them to train hard. The most prominent features of the gym are the barbells and gymnastic equipment, and overhanging flags from various branches of the United States armed forces. There’s also an outdoor recreation area where members often push enormous tires during their workouts.
The lobby features pictures of the athletic teams that the Team CrossFit Academy has worked with and medals that members and staff have been awarded at athletic events. But there is no sign advertising the gym’s name on the outside.
"We are a very low key but exceptionally effective training program," LeClair said.
He said 60 percent of the people who use their facilities are Monrovia residents and 40 percent come from surrounding areas. LeClair also said he really appreciates the community feel of Monrovia.
"I know every business owner and have eaten in every restaurant," he said.
While growing up as a student at La Salle High School in Pasadena, LeClair participated in a number of sports, including cross country and football.
"Team sports were absolutely critical to me," he said.
LeClair also said he was always interested in keeping himself physically fit.
"I knew I was going to join the Army, so absolutely," he said.
In the military, he began to run longer distances. His love of endurance races continued when he got home from active duty in 2002. He was completing 12-24 hour races, but noticed that he seemed to be getting physically weaker. Soon after, he discovered CrossFit, a core strength and conditioning program which combines many kinds of exercise, including sprinting, gymnastics, and weight lifting. LeClair said that now he’s the strongest and fittest he’s ever been thanks to CrossFit.
"I wasted so much time just running, just cycling, just swimming," he said.
But LeClair also said that it was one of his cross country coaches at La Salle, Billy Williams, who gave him some of the best career advice.
"Remember coaching is about the kids, it’s not about you," Williams told him.
"You’re given one opportunity to stand in front of kids and be a role model. Don’t waste that time," LeClair said.