Monday, September 9, 2013

My friends Dan and Alison do Toughman!

** On September 16, I edited this post to remove the photos of my friend getting hit and the name of the guy who did it.  When I was shown pics of the incident, I was angry and wanted to let my friends know how much it upset me on what was otherwise an excellent day.  I did not intend for this post to get so much attention (naive of me, now I see) or to turn this blog into a forum for debating something best left to the triathlon governing body to decide.  

I did not have video footage of the incident when I wrote the original post.  I included the two photos I got from Alison's husband and his friend (taken from 2 different phones, hence the difference in quality).  Someone did capture the incident on video, and I understand that the footage has been sent to USAT for them to use in their evaluation of whether to punish the athlete.

My goal in this post was to celebrate my amazing friend Dan Berlin, who has become a marathoner and triathlete despite the horrible effects of macular degeneration; and to recognize my friend Alison, who completed her first 1/2 Ironman and crossed the finish line surrounded by her 3 children and 6 others who came to the race with their parents to cheer her on.  Alison spends much of her energy helping others and receives a lot of love in return.

If you'd like to congratulate my friends on their accomplishment, feel free to leave a comment.  I've removed all comments from "anonymous" -- there's no reason to hide your identity here.  If you're interested in reading about the experience of cycling 1,700 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail this summer with my 6-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, check out some of the earlier posts.  Of the many amazing moments from this 2-month trip, the best was experiencing the kindness of strangers.  I'll do my best to keep this blog positive and hope to turn the strangers who visit into friends.

(Written on Sunday, Sep 8, 2013)
I did the Toughman triathlon today (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), serving as a guide to my friend Dan Berlin, who lost his sight to macular degeneration.  My friend Alison Berna did the race too, her first ½ Ironman (showing off her knowledge of the periodic table, she called it her first 1/2 Feman).  It’s a well organized event in a beautiful setting.  Here are some highlights & lowlights from the day: 

Most annoying part of the day: waking up at 3:45 a.m.  My mind: “Hey body, it’s time to wake up.”  My body’s response: [deleted for excessive use of profanity]

Most impressive: watching Alison breeze through the race, as if it were no big deal.  Dan and I saw her several times throughout the event, and she was always smiling and moving smoothly.  She even assisted a deaf athlete during the 1.2-mile swim who asked her to stay by his side, in case he needed help.

Most awesome: sharing the race with Dan Berlin.  He doesn’t let being visually impaired stop him from accomplishing ambitious goals.  He rocked the course and, no doubt, challenged the assumptions of perceived limitations held by the many people he passed during the race.

Most beautiful: the views of the glistening water and dramatic waterfall as we ran along the top of the Croton Dam during the race.

Most entertaining: as we drove out of NYC at 4:30 a.m., watching drunk revelers squeezing the last bit of fun out of the remains of the night.

Most anger provoking: An elite athlete was running hard as Alison was headed in the other direction.  Alison turned to wave to her cheering kids and got in his way. I've been in that runner's situation before and understand how frustrating it can be to have to dodge another athlete as you're pushing hard at the finish of a race.  I've yelled sternly, "Watch what you're doing!" or "Be careful!"  The guy chose to hit her hard with his right hand.

Alison’s husband and friends captured everything on film, and the race director has reported the incident to USAT, the governing body of triathlon races.  In an example of something good coming from something bad, Alison met Dr. Bill Begg.  A fellow competitor in the race, he saw her crying after she had been hit and asked if she was okay.  The two ran together for the next 8 miles.  The director of medical services at Danbury Hospital, Dr. Begg treated victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and founded United Physicians of Newtown, a group of doctors that came together with a single platform on gun control after the attack.  Cool dude and now another of Alison’s many friends.

Oh, and for those of you who read the previous blog: to his great relief, Sho made the middle school soccer team.  I joked that now he can’t be like Michael Jordan, but he said he’s fine with that.

Here are some pics:
The Toughman crew: Dan Berlin, Alison Berna, me (Charles Scott)

Alison with Dr. Bill Begg


  1. I did the race too, and she was NOT in the finishing straight, she was clearly at the start of her run portion and he was on the wrong side of her anyway. The finish chute was further up and away from where the athletes were entering the run course. The reality of it is that in order to start the run, you had to make a left hand turn across the incoming runners. There's simply no excuse for this guy to have hit her, it was a very wide road. Absurd.

  2. I can't believe what I am reading! I was there as a spectator and supporter and saw the incident along with my two children, I mention that not for the apathy vote but to state that i wanted my girls to watch athletes compete in a good sportsmanlike manner and see what they could possibly achieve. That wasn't the case when they saw a man shove Alison with extreme force after she kissed her 3 children and high fived her friends after coming out of the transition area. This guy was not in the home stretch as Amy mentioned, it was further up, no other athletes were around, there was enough room for him to move around or perhaps he could have yelled at her to move. No matter the circumstances or conditions - it comes down to him breaking the rules of sportsmanship and using his body on another. He defines what these races should NOT be about -- narcissistic elitism that makes the majority of people afraid of competing. He cares more about his personal record and his medal than he does about a humanity. For him to not realize that he was at fault, and there be no apology or remorse - he does not deserve the second place medal or to be called a tough man athlete!

  3. I actually took the photos posted here and therefore clearly witnessed the entire incident.  As noted, Alison was not in the finishing chute as she was just beginning her run.  It is also quite clear that there was plenty of room to move around her instead of barreling through her.  I don't care how tired you are, you can take a step to the side and avoid contact.  USAT and Toughman take these incidents very seriously and disqualified this guy from the race primarily on grounds of poor sportsmanship.  This is not something Alison requested or pushed them to do but hopefully it will result in this guy using better judgement next time around.  At the end of the day you just don't hit ladies. Humanitarian or not, just don't do it. Absurd indeed. 

  4. I am absolutely stunned that people believe it is ok to hit someone. IT IS NEVER OK TO HIT!

    Maybe next time Blair will choose to use his words instead of hitting to express his himself, like we teach the children. I bet he thought he wasn’t going to get caught, but he did. Having chosen to hit, he has to deal with the consequences - including the embarrassment now powering his rage.

    Poor sportsmanship, an embarrassment to everyone!

    1. One of the other things we teach out kids is to look both ways before they cross the street. They learned the value of this lesson without anyone really getting hurt.

      I made an earlier post that has yet to be published. The thing is, with this trial by internet, we are only getting one side of the story.

  5. After reading everyones posts, I decided to look up the rules and regulations on the Ironman site to be absolutely clear. Here is rule # 5:

    5. Fraud, theft, abusive treatment of volunteers, staff or others and acts of poor sportsmanship are grounds for immediate disqualification and will result in the contestant being suspended from competing in any IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 event in the future.

    It doesn't matter what Alison was doing or why, Cullen broke the rules, plain and simple. When you break the rules, you get disqualified.

    Any attack on her character in defense of a man who has been disqualified is a continuation of his bad sportsmanship.

  6. Imagine all competitors in races and sports used Cullen's method - punching someone in their way. That's why logical rules of sportsmanship have been created. When someone breaks the rules, they need to suffer the consequences - and hopefully they, and others, can learn from their mistake. USAT and Toughman obviously looked into the incident and found that the guy was at fault. There are governing bodies so that they can make these kind of decisions without emotion and drama.

    Who doesn't love a great competition? But if you have to fear getting punched from behind by someone, all the exhilaration and love of sport is ruined.

  7. I cannot believe that there are advocates of Mr. Cullen's behavior. I cannot believe that it matters whether the attack was a shove or a punch. I cannot believe that Mr. Cullen does not recognize that what he did was shameful, or at the least worthy of an apology. I cannot believe that Alison has not gone public with her story, with the footage or with the ridiculous words of Mr. Cullen's anonymous friends. In my opinion, she should have pressed charges and spoken to the press.

  8. I appreciate that Ms. Berna acknowledges, twice, that she did something that she shouldn't have. We all have.

    I thank my friend Amy for pointing out that, unlike my assumption, this was well away from the finish straight, which makes a difference. We've all also been in situations in which we approach someone who is not where she should be or who has a dog that's on a leash that's too long -- it happened to me twice today at the Rockies -- and I do what most do and give a vocal, some say too vocal, warning. This is not just to be polite, although it is that, but why would I want to put myself at risk of, you know, running into someone? There's plenty of room on this road to make sure even if Berna did something stupid I'd have no problem getting around her. And, again, we've all done something stupid.

    Finally, let's not forget that the RD failed in not adequately marking an incoming/outgoing part of the course. I assume there will be cones next year.

    I realize that different people have different priorities in entering "races". This shouldn't have happened. Both "sides" should have apologized and we'd have all been able to move on. It's good to see that Berna has.

  9. Hi, this is Charles, the guy who writes the Family Adventure Guy blog. I've just returned from a 200-mile running relay race and am only now catching up on this thread of comments. My kids, ages 6 and 12, read everything I post, and we regularly look at and respond to the comments that come in. Until now, I haven't felt the need to moderate, allowing anyone to post a comment without requiring my approval. That has just changed. All new comments will only be posted after I approve them. I don't have to agree with your opinion, but I do expect the comment to be constructive.

    It's a shame. Had Blair waited around after collecting his medal, found Alison, and genuinely apologized for what he did, he would have found out what a forgiving and kind person she is. She did not ask for Blair to be punished -- strangers who saw what happened did. I was guiding a blind athlete on the run course at the time, but when I finished the race, saw the bruise and scratches on her shoulder, and the pictures, I added my voice to the others. I did empathize with Blair and wondered if this was just a momentary lapse of judgment. Even if it were only a lapse, I hope he got the message that what he did was not okay.

    This blog is about exploring physical limits, encouraging kids and adults to believe in themselves, and taking action to improve the lives of others. I'd like to keep it that way.

    1. I don't know you but you ran with some of my friends at RtB so I'll cut you some slack. I'm still entitled to an answer to my since-deleted (by you) question, i.e., why could you not bring yourself to say that Berna was at least partially at fault? Why can't you do it now? Even she admits she made a mistake in her since-deleted (but available elsewhere) post and that she backed into Cullen's path.

      Having purged the comments, now your apparently child-friendly page has virtually nothing but statements against Cullen (who is not, btw, "elite"). It's your blog, though, so you can make your own rules.

    2. Joe,

      Thanks for your comment. My blog post reads, "Alison turned to wave to her cheering kids and got in his way." I then empathized with the guy, saying I've been in that situation before and yelled at the person who wasn't paying attention. So, I'm not sure why you say I can't bring myself to say she was at least partially at fault. Alison was definitely at fault for not watching where she was going.

      What made me angry, and what prompted the people who saw it happen to report the incident to the race director, was the choice to hit her hard out of the way. USAT and the race organizers interviewed people at the scene, collected photos and a video, and decided to disqualify the guy for unsportsmanlike conduct.

      I made a mistake in posting the two photos I was given and expressing my anger, which generated a strong emotional response from many people. The guy would soon be punished for what he did and did not deserve a "trial by Internet" as Jason Adams called it in an earlier comment. For that, I am truly sorry.

      I told my friend Clay Shirky (author of "Here Comes Everybody" and expert on the impact of the Internet on society) about what happened and how surprised I was by the response. He was too polite to call me naive (which I was), but he told me about the concept "why wasn't I consulted," which was first described by Paul Ford in a 2007 essay about how anger drives crowds on the Internet. I obviously tapped into that dynamic and generated a surprising (to me, but in retrospect, what else did I think would happen?) amount of outrage on both sides. The Today Show tried to get Alison to go on TV to talk about the incident. Thankfully, Alison refused.

      You're right about my incorrect use of the term "elite," since the guy was not a pro athlete. Thanks for the correction.

      -- Charles

    3. Thanks. I think in the end we're largely in agreement. I also thing that the "trial by Internet" worked out pretty well. There was a bit of back-and-forth of opinion, some poorly stated, but ultimately, and you can see this on the LetsRun thread (the thread allows non-registered postings (and there's an on-going debate as to whether registration is required (I always post using my own name)) but is monitored and inappropriate stuff is deleted) where the consensus is that while Berna erred Cullen shouldn't have done what he did and worse he doesn't appear to have apologized. And that on a board for hard-core runners. As I said, I agree with your assessment. For the life of me I can't understand why he didn't shout so a collision couldn't happen. I run with lots of folks who are timid about shouting. I'm notorious for being at the opposite extreme.

      Anyway, I appreciate you letting me chatter on. I hope you enjoyed RtB (which I did twice with the SSRMC crowd).

  10. I did the race (& RtB too) and while I did not see this happen, I know exactly where it took place. It's not just about hitting a fellow competitor, instead it is about sportsmanship or in this case the lack of it along with knowing the course.

    Toughman is a race that is competitive but also about so much more. I have done this race the last 4 years and it is a special day. In 2011 we raced on the 10th anniversary of 9/11- what a way to honor those who were so tragically taken from us. Every year Toughman raises money for local charities as part of the entrance fee. Is that unique- no, but it helps to show the character of the race- it is special, more than just the race, more than just the competition. And while racing at Toughman does not require you to subscribe to how special the race is, I think it is important for the people who read this to get a broader perspective on what it means to many of us.

    Was Alison in the wrong spot- sure and she admits that. It happens- especially as you leave T2. Should she have been more aware- absolutely. But the old saying Two wrongs don't make a right is very true here. The push or punch is a wrong, but there is more to it. Blair too was in the wrong location-even if sprinting at full speed. Why? Blair raced at Toughman in 2012 and 2013. The course and finishing area is identical. More importantly, in order to turn into the finishing chute, you need to make a 90 degree right turn in between two vertical railroad ties- about 8-10 feet wide. To make that turn at speed the Correct Location is to be on far left. In other words on the other side of the yellow line. As I sprinted in on Sunday I knew I had to be left of the yellow line in order to make the fast turn to hit the chute. I know this because I have raced this race before- like Blair. So for what ever reason Blair felt it necessary to be both on the wrong side of the road & then push someone aggressively out of the way. And by doing so marred a race that for many of us is so much more than just a race. Toughman is special- and maybe Blair will see that someday.

  11. At least three non-anonymous comments, including one from me, that could be viewed as critical of Alison Berna or this blog's author have been deleted. Why? (You can get my address on my blog. Feel free to use it.)

  12. This is Charles, the guy who writes the Family Adventure Guy blog. If you haven't seen them, please look at my additions in blue at the beginning of the updated post about my decision to remove the photos. It was not my intention to initiate a "trial by Internet," although that's what this has turned into. In retrospect, that should have been obvious, and I apologize for not recognizing that when I wrote the original post. I'm not publishing any comment, whether it's reasonable or not, by "anonymous." And even if you use your name, I may not publish your comment if I think it continues the trial-by-Internet dynamic. I've deleted comments both in favor of and opposed to Alison's point of view, including her own comment, because I didn't think they were appropriate for my kids to read. It's not juicy or controversial, but I just posted a description of my talk at the World Bank yesterday with thoughts on the value of being adventurous. Check it out, if you're interested. I'll try to do a better job going forward of keeping my own blog entries true to the values I espouse. Thanks.

  13. I am so impressed with Dan Berlin! What an inspiring man! Thank you for posting his accomplishment! When I read in your prior post that he was going to compete despite being visually impaired, I was amazed and inspired. Inspired also by Alison - way to go on her 1st 1/2 ironman! I have recently started training for a sprint or olympic ironman - it will be my first. I have asthma and I am very intimidated by this type of competition, espectially the swim portion, but your posts inspire me! Thank you. PS: My name is Pam Ganger but I am posting as anonymous because I don't know any other way (I'm not very techy). And I have a yahoo account, but not google.

  14. Pam,

    Thanks! One of my training partners has asthma, and he's beaten me in all 3 Ironman races we've done together. I'm impressed that you've decided to do a triathlon, even though it intimidates you. I love hearing about people like you who don't let fear of the unknown stop them! Good luck in your race.

    -- Charles