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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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

38 Comments

Steve · July 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Start a Kickstarter to sue 🙂

Joe · July 31, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I would recommend forwarding that information to USAT. WTC Sanctions events through that organization, and while I have no clue if Mr. Edwards is bound by USAT Race Director’s Code of Conduct, at least some of his personnel or associates likely are. If Mr. Edwards is bound by that code of ethics, I would argue that most certainly his comments violate several provisions. If he is not, USAT may not be able to sanction him in any way- but it would be good for them to be informed should any of his associates or employees who are bound by the agreement assist him in doing anything in violation.

Thomas Gerlach Professional Triathlete · July 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I’m not commenting on this in regards to Mr. Edwards, but I do want to mention that marking the roads is not appropriate. Why? Because someday someone is going to get killed and/or seriously injured due to the chalk and I don’t want to see that happen. What if someone marked your driveway with the same chalk that lasted 10-20 days? In Madison it has created a lot of tension with people who live on the course versus bikers and that isn’t good. It has resulted in increased aggression toward bicyclists along with verbal, written, and even sometime physical abuse. As guests, it our responsibility to leave with zero footprint and that doesn’t just mean on race day. We are all responsible for picking up our trash on training rides as well as following road laws, etc.

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · July 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    We’re not saying we were right about the chalk and we were in discussions with WTC to clean it up when we received Mr. Edward’s emails. Telling us it needed to be cleaned up or we needed to pay for it to be cleaned up is acceptable, threatening is not.

    MVA · August 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Dude, seriously? What have they got their panties all wadded up in a bunch over? So there’s chalk on the road with inspirational messages. Who cares. We’ve got shit on Flagstaff road still from a few years ago. Not hearing any complaints about that. I just got back from climbing many of the passes showcased in the tour…. PAINT (OMG!!! PAINT!!!!!!) every where.

    Rural IM Wisco resident: “OMG!!!!!!!!!! There’s this chalk crap on my roads it’s such a disgrace, here kiddo go play tic-tac-toe in the driveway with this chalk.”

    When they (those angry at -OMG CHALK!-) can provide some logic behind the outrage maybe I’ll listen.

    Lance · August 4, 2014 at 10:12 am

    This is way too intense! Inspirational messages written in chalk are a danger to cyclists?! Thats just insane. What kind of people live in your area that feel justified to threaten someones life just because they’re riding a bike and the chalk on the road has pissed them off?! If thats true, they should be arrested and the key thrown down the drain. Paint I can understand, but chalk? You need to change your perspective.

Kyle · July 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I’m pretty sure WTC encourages marking roads with chalk. Or at least does not discourage it. There’s chalk everywhere on the roads at IMLP and it’s not an issue. The problem is those spray chalk bottles are about 95% as potent as spray paint. That stuff takes forever to wash away. Obviously WTC is sensitive about not pissing off it’s host communities. But, it should also appreciate an innocent mistake. That email makes it pretty clear where on the WTC priority totem pole regular old participants and fans sit.

Brandon · July 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Yet I’m sure Sonic Endurance members happily fork over $700 to this company, every time they want to do a race…

Chris · July 31, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Did the chalk ever rub off?

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · July 31, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    It was gone this year. We don’t know if it came off by itself or if it was cleaned.

W.B. · July 31, 2014 at 5:37 pm

My law practice already exposes me to the horrible, vindictive, bullying businessfolk of the world, and triathlon is one way of escaping from that temporarily. If my entry fees are lining the pockets of monopolistic bullies–particularly people who act like the assholes I encounter at work–the race loses its appeal for me. If I’m in LP next year and see sidewalk chalk, instead of thinking “how awesome–I hope these people are pleasantly surprised,” I’ll be reminded of this episode.

I’m not sure what the right answer is to the economics of paying pros, but I’m fairly confident that this Edwards character needs to be fired and that I’m reluctant to send any more money WTC’s way going forward.

This seems to be connected to a larger issue of profit-focused assholes taking over endurance sports. The WTC’s, Rock-n-Roll marathoners, and RAM Racings of the world weren’t nearly as prominent 10 years ago as they are now. I’m not sure what the answer is, but supporting the competition seems to me to be a good start.

gimmeabreak · July 31, 2014 at 5:39 pm

They are very clear in asking people not to use long lasting “chalk” like that at all IM races. It’s obnoxious for the people use those roads thebother 364 days of the year. They have thepreatened bans for people associated with things like that and they should.

    DCR · July 31, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Really? Obnoxious?

    I can think of many things that are obnoxious – but having chalk on the ground, heck – even for 20 days, is not one of them. Nor anywhere near one of them.

    W.B. · July 31, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    See Kelly’s comment at 5:04p. Was it a mistake to use chalk? Yes. Was it appropriate for WTC to contact people whose chalk was still around after the race and ask them to pay or arrange for cleanup? Probably. Are Mr. Edwards’ comments defensible? Not unless there’s an explanation along the lines of an unexpected psychotic reaction to new medication.

Scott McMichael · July 31, 2014 at 6:36 pm

As Kelly said we made a mistake in the choice of chalk used to mark the course. To be honest there was little issue with the $2k in a vacuum. Mr. Edwards’ comments were the issue to us. For someone at that level to make threats, idle or not, is ridiculous. And yes our athletes still pay the WTC their outrageous fees. What other option do we really have? It’s one of the reasons we support Challenge so much.

TPC · July 31, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Did he actually threaten you directly?

> 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.

From that line plus Jeff Edward’s use of the word “them”, it appears that you were reading an internal email that wasn’t actually sent to you. No offense but I’d be pretty pissed to have to deal with the stupidity of cleaning up chalk after an event. When a client wastes my time, I’ll very often refer to them in way not meant for their consumption. Am I missing something here?

Chris P · July 31, 2014 at 7:44 pm

It’s so easy to reach and jump on the anti-IM bandwagon right now. Congrats as that is exactly what you have done. They very clearly state no chalk on the roads and you thinking you were priveledged ignored it. The relationship that IM has with the communities can be delicate. What if the chalk issue became big and was the straw that broke the camels back leading to am event no longer being offered? While you may believe the world revolves around you, here is a news flash it actually doesn’t. You were wrong.

    Steve Fleck · July 31, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Agreed. I note this all started with the chalk that would not wash off. The Blogger chose to put that on the road, when they knew that it would not be good or end well.

    Relationships between the town of Lake Placid, the WTC/Ironman and the athletes are very strained and have been for years.The problem is that many athletes don’t think they are the problem. They rarely listen to advice from anyone. they just do their own thing. I recall years ago at the pre race banquet then Race Director Graham Fraser pleading with people (friends family and spectators) to NOT go out on the bike course in cars. The traffic had been getting so bad in previous years that official vehicles , in particular EMS, had real challenges getting around the course. No one listened – traffic was way worse than the previous year!

    The training weekends leading up to IMLP are a total gong show – with triathletes riding all over the place and causing a lot of problems on the roads. Yes it’s an economic advantage, but many locals are fed up, and have been for years!

    With regards to the chalk, the appropriate response should have been an apology and an offer to help clean it up.

      Dark Mark · July 31, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Where does she say she wasn’t going to do that?

      Shaun · August 1, 2014 at 5:27 am

      See the update above. We sent Ironman Lake Placid a check for $2000 the day after receiving the above referenced email.

        Paul · August 1, 2014 at 9:48 pm

        As much as it concerns me that WTC is a money making for profit company that is only doing this as a business, I have to say that the attitude attributed to Edwards seems like an aberration. My own experience with WTC staff has been that they are professional and customer oriented. For this year, they actually did not have my entry, which caused me to panic, but they addressed the issue quickly, professionally and appropriately and I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t think that the use of the chalk was appropriate, but the $2,000 was paid, so I even if it should not have been done, responsibility was accepted.

        I also think the threat of banning the athletes for life is wrong. If someone, a friend, a supporter, wrote my name on the road, that does not mean that I should be banned. The comments attributed to Edward, if he made them, not appropriate and completely unacceptable. .

        Finally, my sense is that while many in Placid are very supportive of the race, many are not. I have done two ironman races there. I have traveled to 3 camps to train. I have found while riding that many drivers are rude and resentful that there are bikers on the road. On numerous times I have been nearly pushed off the road. The roads are also, in many place in horrible condition. I made the decision to race elsewhere next summer, in part for a change of scenery but in part because we are simply tired of Placid.

    Laura Pyott · August 1, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Agreed. How egotistical you were in believing that the world revolves around you. I know that’s what you were thinking when you sprayed supportive messages on the road with your narcissistic semi-permanent chalk. Every comment that said “EDGAR” or “ERIC” really meant “KELLY BURNS GALLAGHER ROCKS”. Because YOU are the axis and we are all spinning around YOU.

    You fool. The world, in fact, revolves around me. Now excuse me while I threaten the squirrels in my yard with a shot gun for running across my driveway.

    I hoped you paid them with a sack of nickels.

    Lance · August 4, 2014 at 10:34 am

    They said they were wrong with the use of chalk, they were in discussion to clean it up…they made a mistake. The issue here is the extent of Mr.Edwards reaction whether it was addressed to her or not. “I’ll physically hurt them” and disqualifying them from past races? It’s disgraceful for a man in his position to even say things like that to any of his staff about people but to actually have it writing? Thats gone past idle comment. The athletes have to adhere to a code of conduct and so should the people that run Ironman. He’s aggressive and insulting on more than one occasion. There’s no respect for anyone.

Chris · July 31, 2014 at 8:04 pm

I should know better than respond but seriously it’s chalk with people’s names written for encouragement. Honestly, lake placid will pull the plug because of Go Dad when their hotels, condos, and bars make a good bit of coin? If that actually happened WTC will find the next city and TasteeCake to support them. Drawing an analogy between someone coming to a driveway and doing chalk art and a public road that is hosting a huge race is inane. There is a huge road race this weekend in Maine that draws elite runners. The race goes through a wealthy town. Tons of people line the streets and there is tons of chalk art. No one has been killed or threatened. It’s chalk writing to support athletes who pay for their event. Can one honestly say that the WTCs response is proportional without being a troll?

Arch Stanton · July 31, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Sounds like you are trying to use Edwards figure of speech in an internal email to avoid consequences for painting grafitti all over the course. From your responses here it is clear that you did not pay or facilitate the clean up. I am at a loss at how someone can be so narcissistic to think it was a good idea to paint crap all over the roads. This sort of thing endangers races. It is perfectly acceptable for a RD to DQ or ban those who do such things.

    Shaun · August 1, 2014 at 5:27 am

    See the update above. We sent Ironman Lake Placid a check for $2000 the day after receiving the above referenced email.

Will Edwin · July 31, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Chill the fug out people.

There are two SEPERATE parts to this story. The chalk and the comments made by some hot headed DH at WTC.

Some of you are supporting someone in a position of power threatening to hurt athletes in our sport? That’s stupidity right there.

As for the chalk, I’ve competed in events in Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. You know what they all had in common? Road chalk! If a bit of chalk on the road is enough to bring down an event, the event was probably never going to do well in that part of the world. Oh, yep I’ve been around Ironman 70.3 as an event manager. Some places just don’t like Itonman, period.

Wether it’s ironman, cycle races (even pro tours, quick DQ them), marathons, fun runs and weddings. There are always messages of support I the road. If it’s just a bit of chalk and doesn’t interfere with other important road markings, who cares?

Now back to old mate at WTC. They should never have been said to start with… A threat of violence are extreme in nature. How many of you have made a physical threat of violence because you’re annoyed at someone? Now going a bit further, why did they let these emails get to their customer at the other end?

At the end of the day the issue was dealt with very poorly by WTC and I think I had I read those comments I would have responded much the same as the OP. A formal apology by WTC would’ve been the best move for them.

Part of me thinks the Ironman brand has pretty much reached its peak. It certainly has in Australia and New Zealand. Challenge and other smaller independant organisers are starting to hurt WTC as well as the stupid things they keep doing to hurt themselves. They really need a PR guru…..

    Will Edwin · July 31, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Apologies for my spelling and grammar…. Oops!

Michael Martin · July 31, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I thought there was way too much chalk markings and cute, inside-joke signage along the course. I can understand some inspirational messages, here or there, but seeing signs repeatedly that said “YOU LOOK LIKE CRAP” or inside jokes about someone named “J” was really offensive and obnoxious.

I want to experience the beauty of the countryside without seeing (other) people’s names spray-painted on the road or billboards along the side of the road.

Come on — the rules are the rules.

You left evidence that you had broken a rule, and if the WTC is serious about its rules — drafting/ overtaken/ outside assistance/ no littering/ whatever — you should have acknowledged writing “867-5309” or whatever and paid the cost to have it all cleaned up —

Or — you should have gone out there with some Ajax and a brush and some warm water and started scrubbing.

Take some responsibility and leave the poor guy alone.

    Shaun · August 1, 2014 at 5:26 am

    See the update above. We sent Ironman Lake Placid a check for $2000 the day after receiving the above referenced email.

      Rich · August 2, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      I’m just reading through this for the first time and I’ll bet you are really tired of repeating the same thing. Reading comprehension is important, they should teach that in school.

      Also, if you’re in a race and taking time to look at the beautiful scenery then I would suggest you, in fact, are not in a race and just out for a swim, bike and run. Paying handsomely for it I might add.

    Paul · August 1, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Michael has a point. There were lots of signs, including the “you look like crap signs” that were truly obnoxious. I am not sure of the inside joke, but as someone in the race, I found the signs offensive and dispiriting

Not Impressed · August 1, 2014 at 12:38 am

Will Edwin: I agree, simply two separate issues and it is rather mind blowing that people on this discussion are mixing the two. Whether the email was intended to be internal or not, it shows the character and priorities of Ironman at its higher levels.

What really has me going (aside from the original issue of pro prize purses) is how Ironman went to such lengths to protect itself from possible back lash due to road markings, but they will do NOTHING to stop the insane level of drafting that is tolerated in their events. This may not seem like a big topic to many reading this but I am a professional and I make my living from this sport. Every race this year my results have been affected because of drafting, especially with the front group on the road. Not just athletes getting closer than the 10m but with the lead pack getting an advantage from the lead motorcycle or car. This ignorance to their own rules takes scarce money out of my pocket, while they are making millions from every event. When will Ironman start looking out for its athletes instead of just itself?

Elwood Blues · August 1, 2014 at 8:45 am

Egregious behavior by Mr. Edwards without qualification. I wish I’d known about this sooner, a $500. donation to the LP Fire Department and they would’ve gladly gone out and washed it off.

Steve Fleck · August 1, 2014 at 9:56 am

Does Ironman bring good money into the towns/cities that it goes to, “Yes”. However, in talking to BIA’s and business organizations, triathletes are NOT big spenders, on things that restaurants for example make bigger margins on – booze and desserts. Those people and business owners will tell you, that they would prefer to have a convention of 1500 – 2000 doctors, or whatever group come into town. The reasons are obvious – more money spent, AND fewer headaches with extraordinary use of the local roads. So, at a macro level, if you step back from these micro issues, Ironman can be in some rather stiff competition at the local level. After a certain point in time, a municipality, may not want Ironman in town – they may prefer that convention of doctors! Extra chalk on the road just ads to the amount of local resistance and issues that can pile up over time. As I mentioned previously, triathletes as a group are poor listeners. They might be better to take the position that we are guests here, and we need to be respectful of the locals and leave the place better than when we arrived!

JD · August 1, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I’m kind of new to this sport, less than 6 months, and have only done 1 Ironman 70.3 and have an Ironman 140.6 coming up, but I already seriously hate a lot of it. I am a long time ultra runner, and not to get into a pissing contest of who is better than who, but the level of elitism from WTC down to some “triathletes” I have met, makes me want to vomit. This guy should be reprimanded, you all should and DID pay to have this cleaned up, and everyone should move on. The fact that this guy is like “my race kicks a$$, if you don’t bow-down-and-kiss-the-ring-b!tch, you and everyone you’ve ever met in your life are BANNED” makes me think I am not cut out for this.

I really loved the first triathlon I did, which was a WTC 70.3, but the drama behind this company and quite frankly some of the competitors, is too much. Ultra runners are some of the most chill, helpful, and nature loving freaks out there (I say that with love, as I am one). This is all for fun, very expensive fun, but unless you are pro (and props to those who are, this ish is hard) then everyone needs to calm down, starting with Mr VP of douchebaggery at WTC. You all paid to have the “graffiti” removed, he needed to apologize for losing his head, not for PR sake, but for humanistic sake. You all are HUMAN BEINGS, and being so angry you “fake” or not threaten someone or some group, is unacceptable. Everyone f**ks up, maybe he did, it seems to be a recurring theme with him between this and LP7th, but I’m not one to make a judgement even if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. This guy is what is wrong with the world in general these days, if he seriously thinks that was justified last year or this year at LP.

    Lance · August 4, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Well said! 🙂

John Hirsch · August 5, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Making threats of physical harm is unlawful in the state of NY. Under the state Penal Law, section 240.26 he should be arrested. Have your lawyer check into that as well or contact the Lake Placid Police department.

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