Fort Myers Marathon postponed leaving runners asking for refunds, answers

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:
Cropped Photo: Army Medicine / Wikipedia / CC BY 2.0 / MGN

Nearly every weekday morning for 16 weeks William Lower woke long before dawn and hit the pavement.

Most mornings, the Cape Coral VPK teacher said he would get up around three o’clock to be back in time to help get his daughter off and ready for school before his wife had to leave for work.

All the dedication and discipline in his training had a purpose.

Lower was hoping to run the Fort Myers Marathon on November 5, in memory of his mother who died of brain cancer his senior year in high school.

“I remember the last time she saw me run. My coach just kept saying do it for her, and that stuck with me,” Lower said.

The marathon would have been the first, and would have been on the 20th anniversary of his mother’s death.

Just 9 days before the race, Lower and hundreds of other participants got an email that the race wouldn’t be taking place.

The organizer, Sunshine State Races, said in the email that it was choosing to postpone the race due to construction along McGregor Boulevard and negative impacts by news media regarding Hurricane Irma.

The company has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and more than a dozen complaints. The complaints describe two other races, one in New York and one on Fort Myers Beach that were canceled less than a week before the events.

Consumers wrote BBB stating that they could not get refunds for registration fees.

Runners that signed up for the November 2017 Fort Myers Marathon and Half Marathon were given a choice to transfer their registration to a race in Palm Beach in December; a half marathon in Fort Myers in March; or to the full marathon in Fort Myers that is being planned for November 2018.

None of these options helped runners like Noreen Graf who said she spent thousands of dollars in travel arrangements to come from Texas with her family.

Graf registered just one day prior to receiving the email that it wouldn’t be happening.
“I knew that they had to know the race was going to be canceled so that registration should have been shut down,” said Graf.

Emails between the race organizer and the City of Fort Myers permitting staff show that as early as September 22, there were discussions about moving the race to a different date.
The construction issue on McGregor Boulevard had been brought up by the city as early as June 30, according to emails.

The company also had not applied for a county permit, which would have needed to be to approved by October 5, according to a spokesperson for the county.

John Mathews, the owner of Sunshine State Races, said it is not unusual for race planners to actively collect registrations while they are still working to get all of their permits.

He said he was looking into all of his options to either re-route the race or move the date. He would not comment on other canceled races, but said he would respond to the BBB complaints.

For runners who had registered for the Fort Myers Marathon, Mathews said they need to email to either ask for a refund or let him know if they want registration transferred to either the March or November races in Fort Myers.

The Better Business Bureau of West Florida said complaints about lost race registration for canceled events is a complaint they are seeing more frequently.

“One of the big key elements for consumers is checking the venue and verifying. If you contact the venue and ask them about the event and they have no clue its happening then that’s your first red flag,” said Bryan Oglesby, director of public relations and outreach for the BBB West Florida.

He emphasized the importance of always checking for BBB complaints before signing up for a race and using their guide to selecting a run.

Lee County still has not received a permit application for Sunshine State Races’ Fort Myers half marathon that’s supposed to be held March 4. Mathews has until one month prior to get that permit approved.

The city’s permitting director said most of the paperwork on their end has been turned in already.

The November 2018 full marathon is also not yet permitted with the city or the county. Special permitting is required to be in place with Lee County thirty days in advance of an event.

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