Outside of the hurt, both emotional and financial, what strikes me about this entire scenario is how totally strange it is. This isn't 1980s banking or insider trading. This is running and triathlon coaching. Runners and triathletes are by and large good people. We inherently trust one another, its a great community of people. I hardly ever come across a runner or triathlete who isn't selfless and all around wonderful. So that is a big reason why as this slowly unfolded over the years, I hard a hard time wrapping my head around what was happening. Small, growing business in the field that I love. A smart, charismatic leader. A team of amazing runners and triathletes from all walks of life. It felt like family.
I often get stuck on the "what could have beens." The whole thing could have been so great! And that part is frustrating to me. If things were just done above the board, if promises were kept, decisions and orders (gear, entries, prizes, etc) followed through on, if it was run the way it was "supposed to" be run, it could have been so great. We had a brilliant leader, we were surrounded by dedicated, wonderful people. If it could have just been left to that, go grow at a reasonable rate. To take care of each athlete. Not out for world domination. Not out to be the biggest, to make the most money. Just a really awesome groups of folks, reaching their potential in athletics.
So why, then? What drove our boss to the path of relentless growth and chasing the almighty dollar? We were asked to market non-stop. To get into every Facebook group and every Twitter "chat." To answer questions and market ourselves. The goal was to be the biggest name in multisport training. It was overwhelming. I never signed up to be 24/7 on social media. And realistically, outside of just devoting yourself entirely to it, how could anyone? I have a family. I train. I enjoy my life outside of the computer. How on earth could anyone be involved in dozens of groups, both established and ones my boss created?
We were asked to reach out to businesses, to offer to do clinics and write up pre-built training plans. I was pushed early on to "get into" Microsoft. To go down to every local running store and offer to lead runs, to give form clinics. Bear in mind, I was brand spanking new at this. What I needed at was a mentor, a leader. I wasn't ready to be out on my own. I wasn't ready, or honestly interested in what felt to me like barging my way into groups and businesses and plugging the company. It felt intrusive to me. A lot of those groups don't want coaches or anyone soliciting in them. Its a safe place for athletes to talk about training, and I felt very uncomfortable soliciting without an invitation. Granted, if our boss had invitation to do so, he never told us that. It was just expected that it would be done.
I would focus on our team page, answer questions and to his credit my boss was generally supportive of the answers I would give. I was one of the lucky ones, however. Others would get openly chastised, both on-line and at races. Again, something I could not wrap my head around. Why would you demean an employee in front of a group of people, virtual or in person? My only answer to that is jealously. My boss had to be on top, had to be the best, the most loved. He seemed not to be able to stand when someone else was well-liked, or had a nickname in a group.
One time I got yelled at for admitting that I drank chocolate milk, for post workout recovery. It was humiliating. Apparently milk is the devil's drink. For baby cows, not people. Regardless of your take on dairy, I for one eat cheese and yogurt. I used to do an occasional chocolate milk after a run, although now I use another product I like better. I gave up dairy after that incident. And you know how I felt? Pretty much the same as I had before. After about 8 months of that I went back to yogurt and cheese. My boss used to scream about how there is no way the elite athletes who endorse chocolate milk as a recovery drink (Ironman training, specifically) actually drink the stuff themselves. I felt vindicated when a couple years later, during a podcast interview, one of those very elite athletes talked about eating cheese and ice cream during heavy training. When you're doing huge volume, your calorie needs must be met for fuel and recovery. Sometimes you need to eat what your body wants - and if cheese is the thing, well, it was refreshing to hear an elite athlete talk about it.
The first really big red flag I got was when one of the other coaches left. He just could not in good conscience work for my boss anymore. This was the first time I heard that my boss had a "past." A "past" can mean a lot of things. I did not Google it. I guess I didn't want to know. And people that I trusted, trusted my boss. He claimed to have made mistakes and atoned for it. At the time, that was good enough for me. I was also getting in deep at that point. I had a handful of clients, and I loved the work. Had I Googled his name, had I read what happened a decade ago...would I have left? I don't know. What I do know is that what I was seeing happening around me, with orders left unfilled, prizes left unsent, Training Peaks popping up "past due," the fact that everything went directly to his personal PayPal account with no tracking....I think I would have seen all that in a very different light.
The first few months of the job, things were pretty good. It wasn't really until the Holiday season, that I started to notice that things just weren't adding up. There was a 5k holiday challenge. People worked hard, charted their progress, etc. At the end of it, I don't think anyone got any of the prizes they were promised. There was also a "teammate of the month" program that went for a couple months then fizzled out. There were orders taken for gear and nutrition products, never delivered. And shoes. Lots and lots of shoe orders. How many of those were filled, I will never know. What was hard about those situations is that sometimes people would ask us what was going on and I had zero answers to give. We weren't in charge of any of that, nor did we even know who to contact. My boss apparently had all these contacts at various retailers, none of which I ever met or had contact with. It was frustrating and embarrassing to be asked "where is my XXX, I ordered that a couple months ago." I would ask my boss and would get "its on the way," or no response at all.
It was about that time that I started slowly talking to some of the other coaches about the problem of lack of follow through. It looked unprofessional and reflected badly on us. We did what we could to remedy that, sometimes it came out of our own pockets. I know we weren't the only ones who "gave" or "invested" in the business. I consider myself lucky that largely it was just my time and not a large chunk of money. For me, it was in the hundreds of dollars range. There was a "get Coach to Kona" campaign that I donated to. It raised a lot of money for the Challenged Athletes foundation, but apparently it was just shy of the amount needed for the Kona slot. Or so we were told. I am unclear about the details and I am not saying there was inpropriety, all I am saying is that I do not know the details. I also donated some money to another charity that was formed later. This is a contentious topic that I feel uncomfortable touching on, although when the time comes in the story I will say what I can, diplomatically, about it. This is my story.