Leroux: A True Humanitarian
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
MILWAUKEE Preparation and work ethic are what enable a young hockey player to become a Division I athlete. But putting those traits to use in other endeavors is what makes the annual Hockey Humanitarian Award winner stand out.
A Kenyan family from the Digo tribe apparently knew something last summer, long before the Hockey Humanitarian Award committee did.
Early in Eric Leroux's 10-week tenure in Kenya last summer, working for an International community-based organization on the prevention and treatment of HIV, the family gave the Princeton goaltender a tribal name.
After thinking about it for a couple of days, Leroux returned to the family's mud hut one day to find them sitting under a tree.
"Come here," they said, "we've got your name. Mwadele."
"That's a cool name," Leroux said.
"It has meaning," said Alfani, a boy his own age that Leroux still calls his "brother." "That's your name because you're so busy, and always running around and never relaxing, and sweating. That's what it means."
"But I'm fine," Leroux protested. "I'm not stressed. I'm sweating because it's so hot. It's 150 degrees here."
Nevertheless, he had a new name.
The Hockey Humanitarian Award has become a treasured honor in college hockey, and it's a testament to the sport that there are always so many deserving candidates. But Leroux, a biology major at Princeton who is writing his senior thesis on HIV in Africa, stood out even more than the others.
In addition to his work in Kenya, Leroux has worked at a malaria clinic in Ecuador. When he returned to the U.S. he helped found the Princeton World Health Initiative, a program that gathers unused medical supplies from U.S. hospitals and sends them to Africa.
Speaking to him, his character, earnestness, maturity, eloquence and quality upbringing are evident — the latter of which is, certainly, as any biologist would know, part nature/genetics, and part nurture.
"They were and still are fantastic role models," said Leroux about his parents, George and Kelly Leroux, a humble businessman and nurse, respectively, who raised their children to be free thinkers within a moral context.
"I've modeled my thinking and actions after them," Leroux added.
"The first emphasis was always education. We had freedom to pursue any ideas we had, and any sports that interested us, so long as certain stuff was in order."
Born in London, Ontario, hockey was a natural sport, and Leroux took to goaltending at a young age. When it was clear he had abilities to play at a higher level, after breaking the goals against average record on his junior team, he took the opportunity to combine hockey and academics like few other places can. He went to Princeton University.
"I could've gone (other) places but education was the first priority and the opportunity to play Division I hockey, at a program as rich in tradition and a school as highly respected, was hard to turn down. It was a dream come true."
Unfortunately, the team's fortunes on the ice weren't always so dreamy. The team stumbled during Leroux's first two years, as coach Len Quesnelle, a Princeton alum, struggled to maintain the kind of highs Princeton achieved when he was an assistant coach under his predecessor, Don Cahoon. After Leroux's sophomore year, Quesnelle was replaced by Guy Gadowsky.
"It was very unfortunate for Lenny to take the fall for our struggles at the time, but we did need something to shake us up," Leroux said. "Since we've had Guy Gadowsky no one's looked back. He's a fantastic coach. He has the highest respect from everyone on the team."
In Gadowsky, Leroux found the kind of coach that exudes that same kind of values he cherishes; that unassuming way of carrying oneself, conducting oneself with grace and charm, but being thorough and prepared as well. Princeton may never be Wisconsin, but it can achieve success of its own.
"Things are getting better for (Princeton)," Leroux said. "We'll see what the cap is — Gadowsky will show you where the cap is."
During Leroux's time in Kenya, he got to see a "cap" of a different sense — a cap on just how much good you are able to do. The only drawback to doing that kind of humanitarian work is in knowing that you can't help everyone, and the twinges of guilt you feel because you get to leave.
"There's so many people who want a piece, who want help in some way, it's really hard to accept the fact that you can't help everyone," Leroux said. "There's always the next kid that's not going to school or getting treatment. There's millions. So you think, what can you do to maximize your contribution.
"I tried to really live it when I was there. (But) only being there 2 1/2 months, there's the awareness that I'm coming home that was impossible to forget. I did try."
After graduating in May, Leroux will spend the summer preparing for his MCAT exam with the intention of going to medical school. But first, he has a job, starting in September, working in Cape Town, South Africa.
"I'll be there the whole year," Leroux said. "They have an astronomical HIV rate."
And he'll face that daunting challenge just like the others. After all, he is officially now, and forever, Mwadele ... and the 2006 Hockey Humanitarian.