When local businessman Jonathan Brett organized Mud Immortal, a five-kilometre obstacle course in Butter Pot Provincial Park this past weekend, he may not have planned for the mud-slinging to be aimed in his direction.
The event, according to its website, was an adventure challenge with eight obstacles, most of them involving mud. At the finish line, the website states, “we have the Immortal Kitchen Party, with food vendors, beer/beverages and live entertainment.”
Costing between about $70 and $90 per person to register — with registration happening in teams — Mud Immortal was a well-publicized event over the past five months. A total of 5,134 people had registered for Saturday’s event, making it arguably the largest single fitness event ever held in the province.
While the event was a for-profit venture, Brett told The Telegram last week a portion of registration, 100 per cent of the beer sales and the $5 fee for a shuttle bus to Butter Pot from St. John’s would be donated to the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Brett said he had also partnered with the Salvation Army, and bins would be onsite to collect donations of muddy clothes and footwear after the race, which would be professionally cleaned and donated.
Come Saturday, many participants say, nothing went as planned.
Though the smiles were plentiful during the event, The Telegram began receiving emails as early as Saturday afternoon from participants who were disappointed by it.
While many of them said they made the best of the day, complaints started with a lack of parking — which Brett previously acknowledged would be a challenge — and included a 2.5-hour wait in a lineup to register, only six of the promised eight obstacles (and only two of them with actual mud — the rest, they said, were over gravel), no chip timers, no prizes, and no food vendors, although there was beer.
Mud Immortal’s website says a shuttle would be available to bring participants from the finish line back to the start; participants say there was no shuttle, and they had to make the 1.5-kilometre trek on foot. The $5 bus fee to the park wasn’t collected, and there was nowhere visible to donate clothes, they said.
There wasn’t even any water, many people said, apart from park water, available from a spout over which park officials had taped a sign saying it must be boiled before use.
“Myself and my two daughters signed up to volunteer for this event a while back,” Lisa Pye-Harding wrote on the Mud Immortal Facebook site Sunday. “The three of us were driven up to the halfway mark to be responsible for the water station and the rope crawl. We noticed there was only one bottle of water but thought that they would be bringing more. When we started to run out, we contacted our volunteer leader by phone as we were told to do if there (were) any problems. Nobody responded to our call until much later in the morning when we were told to use the park water because there was no other water supply. We told them we were not comfortable doing this but were told to carry on.”
The obstacles seemed unsafe, participants said, and a few posters on Facebook reported injuries.
“The first obstacle was the balance beam, made entirely of two-by-fours,” participant Rob Woolridge told The Telegram. “They may as well have been City of St. John’s blockades for construction. Very unsafe. It wobbled like no tomorrow and I bailed because I was afraid it would crack off.”
“At the cargo net,” added participant Dustin Silvey, “we could hear the wood cracking. My friend asked, ‘How many people are allowed on here at once?’ The volunteer’s response: ‘I don’t know, they didn’t tell me, just go ahead.’ And later, that obstacle broke and was taken out of commission.”
Brett told The Telegram Sunday morning in an email he would be making a comment on the concerns.
“However, I’m sure you understand that I have to speak to all staff, volunteers, sponsors and suppliers first so I can provide all the most accurate answers to anything. I will get in touch shortly,” he wrote. The Telegram contacted him twice more throughout the day, specifically requesting a comment on the lack of water, food, safety of obstacles and donations to charity, but did not receive a response.
Brett told The Telegram at the event on Saturday that security personnel hired for the event didn’t show up, and a new crew brought in at the last minute refused to handle parking. There had been more obstacles on the course, he said, but two of them had been destroyed by moose overnight and were unusable from the start.
Many participants have expressed a desire to take legal action against Brett, even though they were required to sign a hold-harmless waiver before completing in the course.
Local lawyer Eli Baker said waivers don’t always hold up in court.
“It comes down to what a buyer thought they were buying versus what they actually bought,” he explained. “You cannot misrepresent what you’re selling.
“Waivers might get around some things, but you cannot get somebody to give up their legal right not to be defrauded. I’m not saying this person defrauded anybody — I wasn’t there and I don’t know — but waivers do not get you out of any kind of trouble you can imagine. It’s buyer beware, but with a caveat of its own. You can’t go around doing funny business.”
The Telegram attempted to contact the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador for comment, but did not receive a response as of press time.