Special Needs

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An Interview with Lee Todd, Chief Operating Officer, Special Olympics World Games

31 Dec, 2008

By: Sports Destination Management Team

We caught up with Lee Todd, Chief Operating Officer for the Special Olympics World Games, just before he heads to Boise, Idaho, for the 2009 Special Olympics Summer Games. Todd ensures that the World Games, the organization's flagship events, are carried out at the highest level of professionalism.

What is the mission of your organization?
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Nationally, how many participants do you have?
There are more than 2.8 million Special Olympics athletes in 180 countries around the world.

How many events are held each year?
Each year, Special Olympics hosts approximately 30,000 events worldwide. The Special Olympics World Games occur every two years, alternating between summer and winter sports.

As an organization, what do you look for in a location?
We go through an extensive bidding process in order to select World Games locations. There are specific requirements for holding a multi-sport competition, including the site's ability to host the competitions and functions, the site's dedication to the Special Olympics mission and their leadership's ability to carry out a successful event. We also seek sites where the World Games will strengthen the local programs and host nation.

From an event management standpoint, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
There is a lot of travel all around the world when planning World Games and you are constantly meeting new people with great ideas and passion. There is just too little time to accomplish everything.

Years in current position?
I started working for the Special Olympics in 1989, but started volunteering for Special Olympics in 1981 hosting ski clinics.

What do you like most about planning sports events?
What I like most, is that despite the hard work and long hours required to put on a successful event, once you see the event happen and witness the athletes competing and participating - the elation is overwhelming.

What is your biggest challenge in organizing sports events?
One of the biggest challenges is the bid process - identifying those interested sites with the combination of great venues, a solid funding plan, and leadership support - all elements required for success.

In your career, what single sports event stands out as most memorable, and why?
It's a tie. I participated in the 1988 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Calgary as the Nordic Ski Team Leader - which was an amazing experience. A few years later, in 1999, I got the same shiver of excitement up my spine during the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Raleigh, NC. I was heavily involved in planning the Opening Ceremonies that year and to hear the huge throng of cheers as the athletes and their delegations walked into the stadium was an incredible feeling that I'll never forget.

Please describe how you feel your knowledge, skills and experience have contributed to the success of the sports events in which you are involved.
Like any job, I think I've gained institutional knowledge through the years and experiences that help both my team and I avoid making the same mistake twice or spending time on erroneous activities.

Also, when planning any major event, there is a tremendous amount of stress involved, which crescendos as the event approaches. I've found my ability to be diplomatic and a calming force when stress levels start to rise incredibly valuable as deadlines loom.

What sports event would you like to help organize that you haven't already?
I look forward to each future event I get to plan and my time planning things for Special Olympics is far from over.

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