LEXINGTON, Mo. — Jaeme Simmons and Tina Flores are huge fans of obstacle course racing where you clamber up walls and monkey bar your way across muddy ditches to reach the finish line.
“Really it’s a place for adults to play on giant playgrounds,” said Simmons who, with her husband, has participated in races all over the country.
Both Simmons and Flores were excited that one was finally going to be held closer to home in Lexington, Missouri, this past October. It was being put on by Terrain Race, which is owned by Cool Events LLC.
But the day before the race, their excitement turned to frustration.
A sign was suddenly posted on the room where registration packets were being handed out, informing more than 4,000 participants that the race had been canceled.
Terrain Race later posted on its Facebook page that not only would there be no race, but there would also be no refunds because the cancellation was “for unforseen circumstances beyond our control.”
What were those circumstances? It didn’t say.
Although the race itself only cost about $30, Simmons and Flores said many people were out much more than that.
“There are people who rented hotel rooms,” Simmons said. “There are people who took time off work.”
Cool Events, which is based in Arizona, holds hundreds of races every year, but it also has developed a bad reputation in the racing world for canceling races at the last minute.
FOX4’s investigation found the company has canceled everything from bubble races to black light races in cities across the country — with little notice and often no refunds.
In fact, in 2014 a fun race in Kansas City was shut down mid-race because of rain.
That left participants fuming. They complained to FOX4 that they not only missed out on the race but they also never received the swag bags and other gifts they had been promised.
Plus, they said they felt nickle and dimed when they realized how much extra money they had to shell out for what initially appeared to be a low cost race. Parking was extra, and they had to pay a fee if they couldn’t pick up their registration packet two days prior to the race, one participant said.
The Better Business Bureau in Phoenix posted an alert about Cool Events after receiving more than 100 complaints.
“Complainants allege the business may fail to be responsive to race or refund inquiries as races are repeatedly canceled,” the alert reads.
Last year, a class action lawsuit was certified in California, accusing the company of false advertising and deceptive business practices, after a race in that state was canceled and no refunds were given.
That brings us back to Missouri. So what actually happened?
“My office found out Thursday,” Lafayette County Planning Administrator Brad Worthington said.
Just two days before more than 4,000 people were to descend into his county, Worthington was told about the race. Cool Events never told him. The sheriff’s department did.
The sheriff’s department had also only found out about the race that same day when Cool Events asked for help with crowd control.
“I made it very clear that it wasn’t going to happen,” said Worthington, adding that a race of that size requires a public notice and two permits.
Worthington obtained a cease and desist order that very day.
Despite that, Cool Events handed out registration packets the next morning before suddenly shutting down at noon.
Racers like Simmons and Flores were furious when they learned that the “unforseen circumstance” was due to Cool Events not bothering to get a permit.
Racers also started questioning the $1 mandatory donation Cool Events requires each participant to pay to a charity called 1Wish.
What is 1Wish? It’s hard to know because there isn’t much listed on its Instagram and Facebook accounts.
One of the key personnel of 1Wish is listed as Valerie Spata who happens to be the wife of Bill Spata, the owner of Cool Events.
You can’t check tax records to see how 1Wish spends its money like you can with other charities. That’s because 1Wish isn’t a charity. At the bottom of its own website, it says its application for a nonprofit tax status is pending.
After runners started demanding answers from Cool Events, the company switched its tune and admitted the canceled race was its fault.
Cool Events then promised to reimburse participants for the fees they’d paid and even made a $10,000 donation to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
That’s all great, but FOX4 Problem Solvers still wanted an explanation as to why Cool Events has had so many problems putting on Missouri races and others when holding races is all it does. But a company spokesman wouldn’t talk to us.
We also called 1Wish to find out more about it charitable status and the work it does. We never heard back.
Cool Events is due in court next month to defend itself against that California class action lawsuit.