How the Grinch Stole from a Charity Race

So you read about my poorly-executed-but-end-of-the-year-PR*-none-the-less race.  The positive splits and premature surge and inevitable wall-crashing.

All that was fun.  No, the wall sucked, but the race was great.  Once you remove all the OUaL from the race, it was absolutely terrific.

*

When Sam Felsenfeld started the Operation Jack Marathon last year, it was to fulfill his goal of running 61 marathons a year to raise awareness and funds to fight autism.

(also, he’s crazy)

((there are 52 weeks in a year, for your reference))

That was last year.  This year they brought it back because people loved it.  And they’re doing it again next year.  And probably the year after that, and after that, and after that.  The event, the cause, and the faces behind it have been swallowed up in an outpouring of support from the running community. 

Everybody is Team OJ.

Except in Houston, apparently.

If you don’t already know, the OJ Marathon raised about $40,000 to fight autism the day after Christmas.  It would have raised about $500 more if not for two Grinches residing in the Lonestar State.

On the same day as the race in Southern California, runners across the country participated in Satellite runs that contributed to the cause.  From a group of girlfriends running off their Christmas cookie binge with a 10K to a hardcore athlete going out to tackle 26.2, participants  completed the run at a location and time of their choice and received a bib, shirt, and medal, for their efforts.

John Strohmeyer offered to coordinate a satellite run in Houston, guessing he’d have about 10 people.  With at least five starters and three finishers, it would be an official marathon according to Marathon Maniacs.

So in theory 10 people show up, run 9 laps around a three-mile loop in a park, one guy sits at a table pouring water and Gatorade and money gets raised for charity.  Perfect, right?  Yeah, so much so that 29 people signed up!  Basically, a fun run that counted as an official race and raised more than $1,500 — everybody’s happy!

Well, everybody except the Houston Area Road Runners Association.

HARRA caught wind of the charity event and got pissed.  If they weren’t allowed to host a big race in the park, well damnit neither can this grassroots foundation raising money for a good cause!  30 people running laps around the park?  Absolutely unacceptable.  Nuh uh, not fair.

Temper tantrum, party of two.

They went to the park director and got the event shut down.  PERFECT!  Congratulations, throwing sand in the sandbox and tattling can still get you what you want as adults.

Except shutting down the event wasn’t enough.  Shortly after, HARRA sent out an email blast to every running club member in Houston planting seeds of doubt about all the good Operation Jack does.

John (OJ Houston) worked with the parks department and eventually did find a new location for the race.  Four days before the event.  A lot of runners ran at the new location, but a lot of them didn’t.  The debacle ended up costing the charity about $500 in refunds.

Congrats Grinches, you sure showed ’em.  Merry F’ing Christmas.

Why am I telling you this?  Not because I’m a supporter of Operation Jack.  Or that I really enjoyed the event.  Or that I think(thought?) the running community is a loving and supportive group of people that band together to do great things both individually and together, and share a mutual love of RUNNING.

(although all those things are true)

Mostly, I want you to hear the story of how two spoiled Texans with delusional senses of entitlement fought to shut down a charity event that brought funds and awareness to a worthy cause.

And I want to call them out for it.  Because it angers me that there are people like that in the world.

(probably the same ones that leave their shopping carts in the parking lot and don’t wave when you let them out in traffic)

Feel free to let them know how you feel about it.  Or congratulate them – I’m sure autism research really didn’t need that $500+ anyways…

Sarah OUaL

*updated 10/27
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66 thoughts on “How the Grinch Stole from a Charity Race

  1. Seriously, some people are just too busy caring about themselves. I think they should give Operation Jack the 500 $. This makes me not only angry, but sad. People shouldn’t be that way.

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    • If Sarah had her facts right, I might be mad also. She has jumped to so many conclusions it appears she has lost touch with reality. “Two spoiled Texans with delusional senses of entitlement”? What is she talking about?? First of all Michelle had little to do with this. She made me aware that there was going to be an event at the park the day after Christmas and was thinking about entering it. I thought I might also. But there was a problem. The parks department will not allow just anyone to set up a table or a pop-up at Memorial Park without a permit. I was told the parks department police would be keeping an eye out and might shut down the race. I thought about this for 2 days before I decided that it was prudent to warn our members that although the charity might be worthwhile, the course was not approved. I did the charity a favor since they moved the event to another park, which I assume they had permission to use, and the event apparently went off anyway. So instead of blindly going off on a rant about how we singlehandedly tried to stop this wonderful “official” event from happening, GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.

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      • Thanks Ron for setting the record straight! As a member of HARRA and an avid runner in the Houston area, along with being a member of not one, but 2 separate running clubs in the city of Houston, we WERE made aware as you said as to THOSE facts and not what Sarah here wrote.

        As a blogger myself, I am always careful not to point fingers based upon one persons account of the incident.

        Sarah, before going off on HARRA and Ron and Michele, maybe you should have contacted HARRA or them first before spilling venom about people and organizations without the full facts of the situation.

        I will be posting your account of the situation along with THE REAL FACTS from the President of HARRA on my blog as well in the very near future.

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        • Yeah… Can’t wait to hear the “REAL FACTS” about how HARRA reached over and snagged $500 from charity.

          The FACT is, it could have been handled by letting 29 people run through a damn park without discouraging them.

          The FACT is, the “favor” that HARRA did by having the event moved caused a loss of $500 in donations.

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      • I run the park quite often and there are often people set up at tables with drinks and support or out of the back of a car for that matter. Are you telling me all these people have a permit? Or that the 29 runners would have even been noticed considering the hundreds that run each day. Also, I got the email it really was pretty negative. It would have discouraged anyone from running. Why not have gotten with John to help him encourage your runners to find a new location if that was the deal. I guess I find the running community of Houston pretty small considered to many other cities and I just felt like we should be supporting each other and trying to stay a little more positive. HARRA is a great organization, this incident was just not handled as professionally as it should have been.

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        • Morgan, if by ‘those’ people you mean like Lukes or a running club, YES they have permits. I work PT for Lukes Locker as well and in the Summer when we do the gatorade tent on Wednesdays, we HAVE to have the permits. So to answer your question, yes.

          As far as an individual who opens up their trunk or whatever, come on, quite being ‘that’ person. You know better than that. I can have fluid in my car and give it to you or whoever of my friends. COMPLETELY different, but I think you know that.

          As Ron said, the park officials were aware of the situation and were probably going to shut it down if no permit was produced.

          And are you on the Board of HARRA? Do you personally know how it was handled internally? I didnt think so.

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          • Junie,

            Not sure what you meant about being “quite ‘that person.'”. Did you mean “quit”? Also, it’s “to whomever.”

            Are you on the board of HARRA? I think we’d all love to hear the internal discussion that went on, but as Ron seemed to say, he wrestled internally with it before deciding, on his own, to go to the Parks Department. Didn’t seem like a board decision to me. Are there minutes? Is there an official record? These are all documents I’d be interested in seeing, but since it seems to be one person’s decision to speak to the Parks Dept., I don’t know that the HARRA’s Board has anything to do with it. I would love to see evidence to the contrary.

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      • Maybe Ron can publish the email he sent out to HARRA along with the communication he had with Sam before the race. That’s probably the best way to set the record straight.

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      • Apparently you didn’t think anyone would re-post your email and call you out on your ovbvious envy/sour grapes…whatever you call it. This is just plain poor human behavior. It would have been just as easy for you to contact Operation Jack with your “information” and maybe *gasp* even team up with them as a sponsor or whatever…help them pull a permit maybe?

        Get YOUR facts straight. No matter how you look at it, you chose a path that was completely self serving. The exact opposite of what Operation Jack is all about. And then to make matters worse you come over here and instead of apologizing for an error in judgement, you point fingers.

        Houston…we have a problem.

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      • Ron, It doesn’t matter what the rules dictate regarding the parks department, it doesn’t matter that you contemplated entering, it doesn’t matter if you *thought* it might get shut down, and it doesn’t matter what you would have said in an email to HARRA; at some point common sense *must* enter the picture.

        29 people running and a table does not constitute enough to require a permit. That will not clog traffic, that will not create a mess, nor will it in any way disrupt anyone’s life. If the park cannot sustain a mere 29 people, then the park should be reclassified a grassy parking lot.

        Simply put, you should have let the event happen, it would not have impacted anything other than adding an additional $1500 to charity. Instead, your pointless rule following stole $500 from charity.

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      • Ron, I didn’t write you a mail because I know that there are always two sides of a story. I wrote an answer based on Sarahs point of view. I dont know which view is right and I will never know. I don’t think its appropriate to publish email adresses. And I think that a official race, where people pay money to enter, should have a permit. Nevertheless, I think that it’s sad that the 500$ are lost.

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      • ok, I have something to add. Why not do the charity a REAL favor by organizing a charity race yourself? With permits and all? The way you think its right!

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  2. Wow that’s so upsetting!! I can’t believe someone would act that spiteful. Charities do such great things and taking away from that is totally grinch-y.

    And one of the things that annoys me most is when people leave carts in the parking lot. Just put it away, it’s not that hard!

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  3. You. Are. Awesome. Thank you for posting this. I couldn’t agree more with you on all accounts. It is so sad that there are people like Ron & Michelle who would taint such a fantastic event. Heading to FB, NOW….

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  4. that is houston for you. you have absolutely nailed it on the head with the two spoiled Texans (read Houstonians) with their sense of entitlement.

    I am from Houston. Born and raised there. I now live and happily run in Austin, Texas. **this is just my opinion here** but a lot of the city has that sense of entitlement just as you described. Hearing this just breaks my heart., but I am not surprised by it. I am angered and hurt. that’s my hometown. From what I remember (**again – these are just my opinions here**) the running community is small. why tarnish what community is there?

    way to go buttheads. way.to.go.

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  5. Thank you for posting this up. I was born and raised and still live in Houston and this story really makes me sad. I very much enjoy running in and around the Houston area. I actually knew nothing of the race for Operation Jack that was taking place here but we are quite a small running community and I’m not part of a running club. However, I will post something about this on my blog today as well because I do think that word about this needs to get out directly here in Houston. Also, We’re not all jerkfaces like those two from the HARRA and it is always terrible when two people work to ruin Houston’s good running name in such a awful way.

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  9. I’m so utterly embarrassed that some turdfaces in Houston did this. I love this town and this state and can’t believe someone would do this!! Plans to repost are in progress… and I did participate in Operation Jack, just did the satellite option, didn’t realize what was going down with the actual Houston event. Argh, so upset.

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  10. Good awareness, thank you! I am new reader of your blog and fellow former Ohioan now living in Chicago. Found your blog through Sweaty Emily via Mile Posts. Hope 2012 is a great running year!

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  11. I bet if the word spreads enough someone will donate the cost of the refunds plus some-if I had the money I know I would!
    I am scientist and I research new cancer drugs-cancer is obviously one of many illnesses for which charities are created so causes like Operation Jack are something I would absolutely support. Thanks for bringing this up and talking about the cause. Even negative publicity about people like Wolpert and Morgan will bring awareness to the charity.

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  12. That’s effing ridiculous. I’m physically upset by this story. What a couple of @$$holes. My little cousin has autism and benefits greatly from charity fundraisers like this, so this story hits close to home. Makes me want to punch those two square in the throat.

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  13. Great post! I know Sam and love what he has created for Jack I can’t believe people would do something like that. So rude, hurtful and pointless. Nice job on calling them out.

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  14. Great post. Even if there were any kind of organizational “issues”, my first thought as a leader of a runner’s club would be “how can I help them get the event done” not throwing toys out the pram and telling on them! Very immature and spiteful. p.s. loving Lori’s comment!

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  15. What a sad story. This breaks my heart.
    That is why people are afraid to put themselves out there to do something good, because there will always be a self absorbed looser ready to shut you down.
    I will send them a love letter.
    Dear jerks,
    You suck!
    Love,
    Me

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  16. Consider at least 1/5 of that loss made up by a donation in honor of two young people with very big hearts! We love and miss you, Sarah and Brian!
    –Mom and Dad B

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  17. Thanks Ron for setting the record straight! As a member of HARRA and an avid runner in the Houston area, along with being a member of not one, but 2 separate running clubs in the city of Houston, we WERE made aware as you said as to THOSE facts and not what Sarah here wrote.

    As a blogger myself, I am always careful not to point fingers based upon one persons account of the incident.

    Sarah, before going off on HARRA and Ron and Michele, maybe you should have contacted HARRA or them first before spilling venom about people and organizations without the full facts of the situation.

    I will be posting your account of the situation along with THE REAL FACTS from the President of HARRA on my blog as well in the very near future.

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    • “Sarah, before going off on HARRA and Ron and Michele, maybe you should have contacted HARRA or them first before spilling venom about people and organizations without the full facts of the situation.”

      Ahhh, the irony!

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  18. That’s purely ridiculous!! It makes me chuckle out of disbelief that people… especially adults (supposedly mature) could do something like that out of jealous and selfishness… ridiculous!! Thanks for making everyone aware!

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  20. This makes me so angry! Blasting about this in just a few minutes, I hope you don’t mind that I linked to this post. I’ve had a few back and forth’s with Sam about everything and you nailed it, what they did is just so unacceptable.

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    • agreed. not much of a public park then, is it? I am on our town’s park and rec commission, and in know that we would have done whatever we could to make this happen. allow the event, apply for the permit after the fact as a formal gesture. sheesh. why not? are there THAT many people using the part the day after Christmas that extra staff needed to be on hand? what use would the $$ for the permit have gone for? is the city of HOUSTON that strapped for cash?
      unreal.
      I am considering hosting an OJ Event here in VT in 2012. I’ll be in touch (permits in hand….).

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  21. If they were so concerned about the race being kosher, they could have worked with the organizer to get the course approved, get a permit, find a new location, etc. So many options here. But no, they just sent a damn email encouraging runners not to participate. ASSHOLES.

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  22. It’s a shame Ron didn’t contact Ron or John before sending this email everyone in HARRA with false & misleading information. The race was never claimed to be certified, not sure what that caused such an issue for Ron. And the organizer, John, already had permission from Houston Parks to hold the race & he was just finalizing the location when the email went out. Too bad Ron couldn’t take the time to ask a few questions before discouraging his members from entering this charity event.

    —————————

    Members Alert: Although it seems that “Operation Jack” is a legitimate charity raising funds for autism (not sure if it is for research, treatment or?) the “official” marathon scheduled for Monday, December 26 in Memorial Park has problems. They do not have permission from the Houston Parks Department to conduct the race. It is not certain they will be allowed to proceed. Further, they use the word “official” on their website. Not sure what they mean by “official” but is definitely not certified. A race on a trail such as Memorial park cannot be certified. Bottom line: if you want to donate your $$ to autism through Operation Jack, that is your choice. If you are doing it so you can run a marathon on a certified course, find another event.

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  23. eek! after reading the email and his comment, it seems that he was concerned it was a scam charity or that runners in his club wouldn’t get an “official” time. some runners are more concerned with that then the actual charity part. since he uses quotes around “official” about 99 times it appears that this is why he tried to warn folks. it just seems that it was a terrible mistake on his part and he didn’t research OJ well enough to know that it’s a legit and wonderful charity. i would doubt that he did it to simply shut the race down out of spite.

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  24. I live and run in Houston, TX. I got the email right before Christmas from HARRA and was honestly surprised that the people behind the race here hadn’t followed the right paths to get their permits to use the park. I have been part of other organization’s events that have been shut down in Memorial park due to not having the permits, so I think it was right of HARRA to warn those participating. Those runner’s that asked for refunds should be the real people you are mad at – because they were obviously running not for the charity, but for the certified course they thought it was.

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    • The real issue is – according to the municipal code, as well as what’s posted on the Houston Parks Dept web site, permits are NOT required unless you want to reserve a specific place for a specific purpose.

      So Ron ratted out Operation Jack for bogus reasons, and the park official who pulled the plug did so without following the city codes he is supposed to be enforcing.

      Plus, the email he sent was bitchy.
      ______________________________________________________________________
      From the Houston Municipal Code, Chapter 32:

      Sec. 32-61. – Public gatherings permit areas.

      No permit shall be required to use the parks or to hold any public meeting or gathering except in the following designated areas of the parks:
      (1)Any building or facility for which a rental fee is imposed by the city pursuant to section 32-69 of this Code;
      (2)Any baseball field, basketball court, tennis court, swimming pool, golf course, or other area specifically designated and equipped for sporting or recreational events, whether a rental fee is imposed pursuant to section 32-69 of this Code therefor or not;
      (3)The Houston Zoo;
      (4)The Houston Arboretum;
      (5)Any other improved and specially maintained area so designated by a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to section 32-5 of this Code.
      (b)The director shall maintain in each of the parks a map of the areas designated in or pursuant to subsection (a) of this section as applicable to that park. A complete list of the parks with designated areas shown thereon shall be maintained in the offices of the director and the city secretary.
      (c)Use of the areas designated in or pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be on a first-come first-served basis. The director shall cause all completed written applications received pursuant to section 32-63 of this Code to be immediately time stamped upon their actual receipt by his office. The first in time shall be the first in right, provided that if two or more conflicting applications are received simultaneously, then the precedence shall be determined by an impartial means of chance.

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        • <3

          I hate bullies, too. Especially bullies who try to defend their actions with WORDS IN CAPS and with FACTS that are WRONG.

          He's an attorney. Research is KEY to the legal profession. It would have taken him 30 seconds to find out that OJ is a respected charitable organization, and another 90 seconds to find the municipal code. I don't know what his reasons for being GRINCHY were, but the fact is, he behaved like an ASS instead of behaving in the spirit of the season.

          If he's been denied the use of the park without a permit, or been asked to leave because of lack of one, that's between him and THE PARK OFFICIALS. There's no reason for him to take it out on OJ.

          (Did I use enough WORDS IN CAPS to justify my response? LOL)

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  25. I have found a lot of camaraderie in the running community, and sadly, I’ve crossed paths with some real jerks. They fall short of the losers that shut down a run for a cause. These people couldn’t have let it slide? Just once? You got to wonder what they were really thinking when the decided to blow the whistle. Even if it was legit, I’m not sure I would want to hear it. I’ll be passing this along for sure.

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  26. I was sent this link from a mutual friend, and it has now been posted on my Facebook page. Anyone that cockblocks a very worthy charity, AND essentially discouraged folks from running for said charity, is a classless bag of skin.

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  27. Here is the other question, who in the world would sign up for a satellite charity race and then ask for a refund? Ummm…it is a charity race AND a satellite race. I just find that is the height of tacky.

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    • Amy, I insisted on giving refunds to people who didn’t participate. The location change was an inconvenience and even though it was for charity, when I do fundraising, I try my best to provide value in return, hence the run (which was official per Marathon Maniacs), the quality shirt and the quality medal (same that Sarah got at the actual race on Monday). People didn’t plan on the location change (I certainly didn’t), and I don’t want Operation Jack taking any donations as the result of what ended up being a bait-and-switch, even though that absolutely wasn’t the intention.

      So, I told the registrants that if they weren’t going to be able to make it to the new location, I was going to refund them, period. I didn’t want anybody to feel pressure as to whether or not to ask for the refund, so I told them I would do it automatically. I don’t want donations to my foundation that people feel guilted into making — not worth it! A few people were extremely adamant about not accepting a refund and that’s fine — I’ll be sending them the shirt and medal as if they were satellite runners. But I don’t hold anything against those who wanted the refund — I couldn’t give them what they signed up for and that wasn’t their fault!

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