Mud Immortal participants consult police, lawyers

‘We wouldn’t have touched it with a 10-foot pole’: minister

Published on September 24, 2013
Mud Immortal organizer Jonathan Brett speaks to participants before the event at Butter Pot Provincial Park in this Telegram file photo.

Three days after the Mud Immortal event, the backlash is continuing — and a number of participants say they have contacted police and lawyers about taking legal action against its organizer, Jonathan Brett.

They believe it’s a matter of fraud, and they are asking for Brett to either refund their money or donate it all to charity.

“We need to look into a class-action suit, if only to prevent others from taking advantage of people in the future,” participant Colette Phillips told The Telegram.

“I think participants would be happy if all the profits went to charity, but something should be done.”

Local lawyer Ches Crosbie, whom a number of participants said they had contacted, said Monday he will not pursue a class-action case.

“Reports of Mud Immortal suggest that the promoter over-promised and under-delivered. However, a class proceeding may be too expensive for the amount of money involved, and there is doubt as to whether the promoter could pay the damages,” Crosbie wrote on his website.

He suggested participants who suffered serious injuries, like broken bones, may have worthwhile individual claims to which insurance may respond.

Mud Immortal was billed on its website as an adventure challenge in Butter Pot Provincial Park with eight obstacles, most of them involving mud, with a “kitchen party” complete with food vendors, a barbecue, beer and other beverages and live entertainment afterwards, as well as prizes for the fastest times and best costumes. The event was a money-making venture, but Brett told The Telegram the day before it happened he would be handing a portion of the registration fee, 100 per cent of the beer sales and a $5 fee for a shuttle bus to Butter Pot from St. John’s to the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. As well, he said, he had partnered with the Salvation Army, and bins would be onsite to collect donations of muddy clothes and footwear after the race, which he would have professionally cleaned and donated.

A total of 5,134 people registered for the race, paying between $70 and $90 each. Dozens of them have contacted The Telegram to share their disappointment. Hundreds have posted on the Mud Immortal Facebook site to express their anger, as well as on a separate site created specifically for the purpose.

Among their complaints are a 2.5-hour wait in a lineup to register, a lack of parking, no timing chips, unsafe and shoddy obstacles — two of which actually broke and were taken out of commission — no barbecue or food of any kind, no prizes (apart from a participant medal) and boil-order drinking water provided without having been boiled. A promised shuttle at the finish line to bring participants back to the start was non-existent,  they said, and they were forced 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 mud, many of them said, except for the case of two obstacles. The rest saw participants jumping, hanging, crawling and climbing over gravel, and a number of injuries were reported.

Brett, a local businessman, had remained silent about the issue until 10:30 Monday night, when he issued a media release.

“I would like to extend my sincere apologies to each and every participant who found that the first Mud Immortal Challenge did not meet their expectations,” the statement read. “I fully recognise that there were problems with the Mud Immortal Challenge and sincerely regret that the event was not all that everyone hoped it could be. While some of those problems were completely beyond our control, we fully appreciate the frustration being expressed by some participants and have learned many valuable lessons which will improve the organization of all future events.”

Brett said he will fulfil his commitments to charity. Clothing donated at the event is being cleaned and will be donated to the Salvation Army, and he plans to present to the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador a “sizeable cash contribution,” he wrote.

He told The Telegram at the event the security team he had hired for the race had failed to show up, and a last-minute crew brought in had refused to handle parking. When it came to the timing chips, Brett said the Halifax company responsible had also fallen down on the job.

There had been at least two more obstacles planned, he said, but they had been destroyed by moose overnight.

GoodLife Fitness, a sponsor of Mud Immortal, said Monday it was disappointed in the results of the event.

“We are very sorry to hear reports that this event was poorly executed and that people were injured during the event,” said Callie McInroy, GoodLife Fitness’ Event and Sponsorship Specialist, in an email to The Telegram. “We strive to only partner with events that provide an excellent experience for participants and supporters and we believed that this event met our criteria when we were approached by the event organizer this spring. We are very disappointed to hear that this was not the case.”

 Shirley Lucas, executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said Monday afternoon Brett had contacted her earlier in the day and expressed his apologies.

“He’s made an indication that he is going to be giving us a donation, but the amount hasn’t been determined at this point,” she said, noting the organization had nothing to do with the production of Mud Immortal, but was just the named recipient of donations.

“Certainly we don’t like any bad publicity or anything that negatively reflects the society, nor do we want to be involved in things that can be harmful to the organization. Obviously there are a lot of unhappy people and that’s not a really good thing.

“I asked him to keep me informed of anything that transpires and what kind of donation it’s going to be, and hopefully that will be sometimes in the very near future. He was apologetic and said it was not his intent to do anything harmful to us, and I hope this situation is going to be rectified.”

Donations received by the society go toward programming for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, including education sessions and support groups.

Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson didn’t mince words when asked if government would have approved the use of Butter Pot Provincial Park for Mud Immortal, had it known what was going to transpire.

“We wouldn’t have touched it with a 10-foot pole,” he said. “We certainly had assurance from the organizer that everything would be in place: shuttle buses, proper security, water. This is an event that has been carried out successfully in other jurisdictions. About midday, we came to the realization that this organization did not have the safety and what we needed to have in place. Our rangers did as best as they could under the circumstances to ensure the safety of people, but we should never have been put in that situation.”

Hedderson said his department had approved the use of the ski trail in the park for the course, and was assured that participants would only be travelling on the area that was roped off. The trail has been used for other sports, he said, including skiing events and triathlons.

“With the lack of volunteers and security, things got out of hand with them using that, and there was some aspect of them having to go outside the marked trail, and that’s where the problems began. I’ve had an assessment done today, and thank heavens there’s no serious damage. We going to hold the organizer responsible for any damage or anything that’s out of the ordinary with regards to this event.”

Hedderson said he asked his department for a full review of protocols surrounding approval of such events, and he wants to make sure safeguards are put in place so a similar situation doesn’t happen.

A spokeswoman for the RNC did not have any information on any formal complaints made to police about Brett and Mud Immortal Monday afternoon, but advised individuals wishing to make a complaint to visit police headquarters and do so right away. Whether charges are laid or not will depend on an investigation into the incident and whether or not a criminal offense has taken place, she said.

To read Monday's related story, click HERE.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury