Patrick McClenahan: Embracing the Spirit of Competition

Patrick McClenahan is getting ready for his celebratory pose. But it’s not his turn quite yet. Beginning July 25, in a contagious manifestation of courage, determination, and joy, an estimated 7,000 Special Olympics athletes will strike that triumphant pose—arms outstretched and hands open, as if two sturdy oak branches were reaching for the sun—when they […]

Patrick McClenahan: Embracing the Spirit of Competition
August 7, 2015

Patrick McClenahan is getting ready for his celebratory pose.

But it’s not his turn quite yet. Beginning July 25, in a contagious manifestation of courage, determination, and joy, an estimated 7,000 Special Olympics athletes will strike that triumphant pose—arms outstretched and hands open, as if two sturdy oak branches were reaching for the sun—when they cross the finish line and receive their medal.

As president and CEO of the games, McClenahan is in charge of those athletes, their 3,000 coaches, the 27 venues where they will compete, the dorms where they will stay, and the means of transportation that will take them around Los Angeles County. He and his team will provide everything from food to healthcare for the athletes during the eight days they will be in Southern California. McClenahan’s staff of 400, including 12 executives, has been planning this Herculean task for four years.

At the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, McClenahan secured LA’s bid for the 2015 games. Before he embarked on the trip, he had a conversation with a nurse during a doctor’s appointment that deeply affected him. The nurse told him her son had intellectual disabilities. Since her home country viewed his condition as a curse, she chose not to tell friends and relatives her son existed. McClenahan responded, “He will enrich your life in more ways than you’ll ever imagine.”

Immediately after speaking with that mother, McClenahan recalls, “I thought ‘How amazing is it that I’m on my way to Greece to find out what Special Olympics is doing around the world?’ She’s no longer in the country where she came from, she’s in Los Angeles with this diverse community. There are many more families living with this stigma that their child or loved ones are not worthy to be in public.”


McClenahan with Bobby Shriver and Rob Friedman, co-chair, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group

McClenahan with Bobby Shriver and Rob Friedman, co-chair, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group

The 57-year-old Glendale, California native graduated from Herbert Hoover High School and attended the University of Southern California, where he studied business. McClenahan later joined his father’s company, TransAmerica Video.

McClenahan worked his way from the shipping and distribution department to the edit bays where he became a producer and director. He eventually started his own production company, and soon the biggest client of his production company, Prime Ticket, became his employer.  McClenahan then spent the next 13 years at LA’s CBS duopoly KCBS/KCAL.

McClenahan credits his rapid rise through the competitive world of sports broadcasting with a simple leadership philosophy. “I’ve always said that the best way to get ahead in life or in a career is to create an environment where people are rooting for your success. I have a real belief that if you treat people right, they have your back,” he says.

A Personal Passion

There is a secret weapon driving McClenahan’s philosophy. “People would ask me, ‘How do you stay so calm in that kind of heated environment?’ and I tell them that I have an unfair advantage. Every night I put my daughter to bed.”  McClenahan’s daughter Kelly, 28, has cerebral palsy.  “It gives you perspective on what’s important and what’s not important,” he says.

Kelly has been a driving force for positive change in the McClenahan family. “I believe my daughter is a unique creation, and has a special purpose in life. She touches people unlike anyone else and does so in a very special way.”

In 1994, McClenahan won his first of six Emmy Awards after completing a one-hour documentary on the Special Olympics of Southern California. “It had little to do with my production capabilities. It had a lot more to do with the compelling nature of the subject matter.”

Because of that documentary, McClenahan got involved with Special Olympics Southern California and chaired the board for 11 years, before leading the bidding process to bring the games to Los Angeles.

McClenahan's daughter, Kelly

McClenahan’s daughter, Kelly

From Inception to Legacy

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics in the 1960s, said she believed that the lives of Special Olympic athletes could be changed by their getting involved and competing in sports. She often said that acceptance and inclusion could be achieved one community at a time, as the perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities evolved. The Special Olympics now involves 4.4 million athletes from 170 countries around the world, including 750,000 Special Olympics athletes in the United States.

“In a city full of movie stars and all-stars, the athletes will be the stars of the show,” McClenahan says, pointing out that chief engagement officer is a title more suited to the role he plays. He and his team certainly have engaged a lot of those all-stars and are counting on their support.

During the bidding process, McClenahan held meetings at the home of USC President C.L. Max Nikias and in a Staples Center suite owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss also honored the athletes during a Lakers game.

Since then, McClenahan has lined up corporate sponsors including Coca-Cola, Mattel, and Kaiser Permanente. Entertainment titans Steven Spielberg and David Geffen have pledged support. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama signed on as honorary chairs for the Games last summer. By the time the Games draw to a close on August 2, McClenahan will be close to his Special Olympics fundraising goals of $91 million. That would be the most money raised in the history of Special Olympics.

McClenahan used his background in sports broadcasting to secure a deal with ESPN to broadcast the games across the country and around the world. Beginning with the three-hour opening ceremonies, the network will provide additional coverage of 10 hours of programming during the week, including specials on ESPN and ABC that highlight the athletes’ courage and determination.

From Long Beach to Griffith Park to Downtown LA, Los Angeles County is Olympic ready, McClenahan said. He promises that his games will prove that. He has worked closely with Peter Ueberroth and others who organized the successful 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He is determined that his games will be a signature event of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s tenure, after much of the groundwork was laid with help from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The games are the first major sporting event in Southern California since LA failed to win the Olympic bids for the 2016 and 2024 Summer Olympic Games. This signature success will have a ripple effect throughout the community. The LA Tourism & Convention Board estimates the games will have an economic impact of $415 million.

McClenahan with USC President C.L. Max Nikias and Nikias' wife

McClenahan with USC President C.L. “Max” Nikias and Nikias’ wife

Countdown to Triumph

As I visit with McClenahan in his donated office space in Downtown LA’s U.S. Bank Tower, it becomes apparent that his enthusiasm and passion for Special Olympics and the World Games—while not demonstratively bombastic—is nonetheless heartfelt and authentic.

McClenahan’s service and volunteerism are hallmarks of the Special Olympics World Games. Because tickets are free, McClenahan encourages volunteers to fill the stands of the sporting events and cheer on the athletes. He says confidently it will be an experience that will change perspectives while reinforcing that message of inclusion and acceptance. “By the end of the day, you’re like ‘Okay, who’s helping who here?’”

Once the games come to an end, and McClenahan dissolves the organizing committee that has been a huge part of his life for the last four years, he promises that he, too, will finally complete his own celebratory pose.

While he doesn’t know what’s next, he is certain his involvement with Special Olympics will never end.

“Whether I do it professionally or as a volunteer, there has to be a meaningful experience,” he says. As for accepting job offers that could follow the successful sporting event, McClenahan has a very simple message to his next potential employer: “I would be happy to do that at the end of August if it’s near a beach I’m lying on.”

Debi Anderson, Dustin Plunkett, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rob Friedman, Patrick McClenahan

Debi Anderson, Dustin Plunkett, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rob Friedman, Patrick McClenahan

World Games Alumni Profiles

Debi Anderson, 37
Competes in Gymnastics, Volleyball, Track & Field

  •  Special Olympics Southern California Athlete Representative, Board Member
  •  2015 World Games Global Messenger
  •  Joined Special Olympics in 1998

Nothing is impossible. That’s the personal motto of Debi Anderson, who won a Special Olympics gold medal in running. The Placentia native says she enjoys the glitz of the gymnastics events the most, however, because of the costumes she gets to wear. “Special Olympics has taught me I can do anything if I put my mind to it,” she said. Anderson is an athlete representative and board member on the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors. In that capacity, she has made more than 100 speeches and appearances for the organization. Anderson has also raised more than $19,000 for the Summer Olympics World Games. She’s looking forward to meeting athletes at the games and “showing what people with intellectual disabilities can do.” It’s a task she is bracing herself for: “I just need to remain calm and take a deep breath.”


Photo by Cory Hansen

Dustin Plunkett. 34
Competes in Basketball, Soccer, Bowling,  Tennis, Golf

  •  Special Olympics Southern California Athlete Representative, Board Member
  •  2015 World Games Global Messenger
  •  Joined Special Olympics in 1996
  •  Basic skills and assistant basketball coach

According to Dustin Plunkett, Special Olympics saved his life. Literally. Eleven years ago, its health plan, Healthy Athletes, covered his costs for a dental exam that detected gum cancer and removed it without chemotherapy or radiation. That close brush with cancer might not have been averted without Special Olympics. And Plunkett almost didn’t join. The 34-year-old Paramount native had to convince his dad to let him participate. Golf is Plunkett’s favorite sport because “what you do on the course, you can apply to real life,” he says. Plunkett is active as an athlete, board member and Global Messenger for the organization in Southern California. This summer he will be working as a sideline reporter for ESPN. He considers this the chance of a lifetime to share the spirit of the Games with viewers around the world. “Never in a million years did I think I could have such amazing opportunities,” he says.

Patrick McClenahan and the SOWG

Patrick McClenahan and the SOWG

Patrick McClenahan
CEO, Special Olympics World Games 2015



Alumnus, USC

Wife, Karren; son, Eric; daughter, Kelly

Business Over a Drink
 WP 24, JW Marriott, LA Live

On his Wrist
Baume & Mercier

In his Garage
Audi A8

Last Book Read
“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel Brown and Daniel James Brown

Memorable Sports Moment
His daughter, Kelly, being awarded her first Special Olympics medal

The 2015 Special Olympics World Games

The largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015 and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games

Torch Run
July 13-24
Begins at the State Capitol in Sacramento and concludes with ceremony at L.A. LIVE

Opening Ceremony
July 25
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Closing Ceremony
August 2
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Special Olympics believes in recognition of each athlete’s efforts. Medals are given for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place; ribbons are given for 4th through 8th places.

World Games By the Numbers

25 Events
27 Venues hosting events
110 California communities participating in Host Town program
154 Corporate partners
177 Participating nations
$2,500 Cost to fund one athlete’s participation
3,000 Coaches
7,000 Competing athletes
30,000 Volunteers
80,000 Spectators expected for the Opening Ceremony
500,000 Spectators expected throughout the Games
$91mm Fundraising goal
 $415mm Expected economic impact for Los Angeles

Landmark Dates

First games held at Soldier Field in Chicago. 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada competed.

1977 First International Special Olympics Winter Games held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

1993 The 5th Special Olympics World Winter Games are hosted in Salzburg and Schladming, Austria. These are the first World Games held outside North America.

2003 Ireland hosts the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside the United States.

2008 Special Olympics celebrates its 40th anniversary as a true global movement, with nearly 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries.

2015 Marks the 24th Special Olympics games (and 14th Summer Games) and the first World Summer Games held in the U.S. since 1999.

Event Highlights

Uytengsu Aquatics Center, USC

Loker Stadium/Cromwell Field, USC

Galen Center, USC

Lucky Strike Lanes, L.A. LIVE at the LA Convention Center

Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Griffith Park
Wilson & Harding Golf Courses, Griffith Park

John Wooden Center, UCLA

LA Convention Center

The Los Angeles Tennis Center, UCLA

Alamitos Beach, Long Beach

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