Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Race: An Organizer’s Nightmare
18 Oct, 2017By: Michael Popke
On the surface, the sold-out Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Race had everything going for it. Cool location in Florida (check). A variety of distances (check). A sellout crowd (check). And of course, the cache of being the one and only mermaid race (big check). So what went wrong?
Basically, everything that could – and it all fell on the organizers’ shoulders. Let’s review...
One of the first rules any sports event planner follows is this one: Meet the needs of all participants and ensure their safety. Weeki Wachi organizers found that out the hard way after their September 23 event failed miserably.
• Waits of an hour or longer to pick up bibs
• A 90-minute delay before the start of the half-marathon
• Inaccurate race distances
• Inadequate water supply for runners as temperatures soared into the 90s
• No safe highway crossing on the course
“We watched three people almost get hit by a truck when we were coming up to the turnaround point,” 5K participant Jennifer Bryant of DeLand, Fla., said. “We all screamed because we thought we were going to watch someone get hit.”
This first-time mermaid-themed race offered options of 1 mile, 5k and half-marathon, and attracted an estimated 800 runners. Now, the event’s organizer, Arizona-based Landmark Races, faces allegations from the Florida Department of Transportation that race director Marc Heon never even obtained a permit to hold the event.
Heon posted a lengthy statement and apology on its Facebook page, partially blaming Hurricanes Irma and Maria:
The inaugural race event at Weeki Wachee Springs did not go as planned. For some of you, that is an understatement. For others, you may chalk it up to an inaugural event. As a race director with goals to bring running events to unique venues, I am embarrassed by the way the event played out. Months of planning were uprooted with the arrival of back-to-back hurricanes, and the original vision for this inaugural event was quickly challenged. … We had originally started out with over 40 volunteers for race day, and Irma took away 37 of them.
But, as RunnersWorld.com pointed out, not all participants were satisfied with that response (which, it should be noted, did not include the offer of a refund): “The hurricane, they say, had nothing to do with offering safe courses of the correct distance or enough water and cups to drink it out of. The race also failed to provide the correct address for the off-site race parking lot, accurate course markings and mile markers, and post-race food — all of which should not have been affected by the hurricane, either.”