Like many people in the triathlon world, I have closely followed the #IMLP7th campaign. The campaign took a personal turn for me when on Sunday a World Triathlon Corporation (“WTC”) / Ironman employee ripped the large #IMLP7th check out of Ray Botelho’s hands and threw it out. The WTC employee was later identified to be Jeff Edwards, Vice President of North American Operations for WTC. What struck me most was that this was not the first time Jeff Edwards acted inappropriately towards the athletes who participate in Ironman races.
In 2013, I had several friends and Sonic Endurance athletes racing at Ironman Lake Placid. Prior to the race I purchased marking chalk in white and blue and used it to mark the Ironman Lake Placid course with the names of athletes racing in the event. From the manufacturer’s website and the instructions on the cans of marking chalk, it was our understanding that the chalk would wash away completely in ten to twenty days.
Here’s what the markings looked like:
Unfortunately, the chalk did not wash away, and after the race WTC contacted us about the chalk markings. My husband had several conversations with Liz Kollar, the athlete relations and club program director for WTC about the chalk and explained our belief that the chalk would wash away in 10 to 20 days. On August 20, 2013, WTC sent my husband Shaun an e-mail explaining that we needed to either clean up the chalk or make a $2,000 donation to the Ironman Foundation to pay for clean-up of the chalk. Shaun forwarded the e-mail to me to ask how we wanted to proceed. As I was reading through the chain of e-mails below the e-mail sent to Shaun, I noticed several e-mails from Jeff Edwards.
On August 10, 2013 at 1:16 p.m. Mr. Edwards stated:
“Either they pick up the phone and respond by Monday or they are done – FOREVER . . . every single one of them and their friends and families and training groups. I will personally harm them if I see their stupid bike jerseys or cars or stickers or tents or whatever else they use – no matter where I see them.” (Ellipsis and capitalization in the original.)
At 4:04 p.m. Mr. Edwards went on to state:
“We can also start searching their names in the database, retroactively DQing them for every race they have ever done, and removing them from any future race for which they are registered.We keep the money. Too bad for them.”
Mr. Edwards sent these remarks to four different employees of WTC and not a single one of them responded in the e-mail chain. Personally I was devastated by these comments and could not comprehend how any individual, and especially an individual at the Vice President level of an organization that has spent so much time promoting the safety of athletes (Mr. Edwards was the person in charge of the WTC’s Swim Smart initiative), could express that he would “personally harm” athletes, coaches, their friends and their families “no matter where [he] sees them.” We were trying to work with WTC to address the issue with the marking chalk and the Mr. Edwards responded with physical threats. It was mind blowing.
As an organization, we hired an attorney to address these issues with WTC. Through counsel, we sent a demand letter to WTC in September requesting:
• A full investigation into Mr. Edwards’ actions not only with regard to Sonic Endurance but also with regard to any similar threats against other athletes and organizations;
• A reprimand of Mr. Edwards commensurate with the severity of his actions;
• Written assurances from WTC and Mr. Edwards personally that individuals associated with Sonic Endurance will not be harmed, injured, threatened or harassed either verbally or physically by Mr. Edwards or any individual associated with WTC;
• Written assurances from WTC that there will be no negative effects placed on past, current or future Sonic Endurance athletes and coaches, specifically, assurances that Sonic Endurance and athletes and individuals associated with Sonic Endurance: (1) will not be retroactively disqualified from WTC races; (2) will not be removed from WTC races for which they are currently registered; and (3) will be permitted to participate in future WTC events;
• A meeting with Andrew Messick to discuss the e-mails; and
• Monetary damages.
Our attorney repeatedly followed up with WTC for a response to our demands, and we finally received a response on November 15th. In sum, WTC told us that they were not willing to negotiate and that they did not feel that Mr. Edwards’ actions warranted any response whatsoever.
At that point in time we shared this story with our athletes, who all felt that we should “do something” to address what happened and to prevent WTC from “bullying” others. The problem is we’re a small organization and did not (and still do not) have the cash to pursue legal action (I’m an attorney, I know litigation can be long and very expense). Filing a lawsuit again WTC would likely result in a long, drawn out fight where nobody emerges as a winner (yes, we could probably win and be awarded damages but at what cost?). We went back and forth on whether to publicly disclose what happened and we were letting the whole issue slip under the rug and trying to move on when I saw that Mr. Edwards had been identified as the person responsible for stealing the #IMLP7th check. Mr. Edwards anger and aggression towards us wasn’t a one time occurrence, apparently this is a pattern of behavior for him. I’m hoping by disclosing this I’ll be helping in my own small way to encourage WTC to address Mr. Edward’s actions and begin treat its athletes (both professional and age group) with the respect they deserve.
8/1/2014 Update (From Shaun):
There have been comments here and on social media questioning our willingness to pay or take responsibility for our mistake with the chalk. When I was contacted by Liz Kollar, we had an open discussion about the product we used and options for cleanup. We asked for a 3 week period to allow the chalk to fade, based on the manufacturer’s guidelines. In that time, Liz and I had roughly half a dozen phone calls to discuss progress and potential remedies. All conversation with Liz were absolutely cordial and professional.
On August 20, 2013, we received the above referenced email from the Race Director for Ironman Lake Placid, stating that the three weeks had expired and discussing next steps. On August 21, 2013, we sent a $2000 check via USPS Priority mail (tracking number 9405 5036 9930 0034 3758 69), payable to Ironman Foundation, to cover the stated cost of cleanup.
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