I joined a gym to win their weight loss challenge which ended up being a Facebook popularity contest. I was winning when a sore loser targeted me with hate speech and cyberbullying…the gym didn’t care to help me because they were getting free publicity at my expense. Good people rallied to stand up against the injustice and I won by a landslide. Now the gym has deleted and covered up the whole thing, implying they had no part in it.
In January, I decided to join OrangeTheory Fitness (OTF), because they were doing a Transformation Challenge (TC) that a friend had won a couple years ago. She was sure I could win. It felt so good to have someone believe in me so much, that I decided to take it on. I learned as much as I could, made a solid plan, and went for my first workout to see if this was something I could do for 6 weeks. It wasn’t nearly as intense as I expected. I understand the concept “interval training,” which was basically alternating between treadmill, rowing, and weights/floor exercise.
It was nothing groundbreaking but I could see others were dedicated fanatics who had drunk the kool aid. Boutique fitness studios are all the rage because they’re intimate, fun, intense, and most of all, a social experience. They are generally expensive but you have to pay to play, right? You are supposed to feel like part of their elite club (one of their plans is actually called “Orange Elite”), you are supposed to feel *special*. I found out later that all the top secret workout recipes are posted on the OTF reddit group every day, so one could easily duplicate the workout for free. I guess it’s the social exercise “culture” people are shelling out big money for.
I definitely needed to make a diet a huge focus of this process; simply doing this workout 3-5 times a week was not going to cut it. When I was in my early 20s, I’d worked at a membership gym club; therefore I understood how crash fitness works. While exercise is certainly a factor, I believe attention to diet is integral if you want to lose pounds quickly.
As was the requirement, I signed up as a club member a few days before the challenge started. I went for the weigh-in on my 43rd birthday, Jan 20. I made sure I did all my celebrating the day before. I’ll admit, I did eat birthday cake for breakfast before getting on the scale. Along with weight, they also took “before” photos. I asked how it all worked, and they said “whoever loses the most weight wins”. They told me that there was a local branch prize of $500 and a citywide prize of $2000, which was a lie. I asked if I needed to sign anything, and if I could look at the rules. They answered, “there is nothing to sign”, and they didn’t have a copy of any rules. I was told that the only rules were that I had to workout a minimum of 3 times a week, not more than once a day, and that the contest ran from Jan 21 to March 3. OK, easy-peasy. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight, I learned to never join a contest without official rules. Duh.
My start weight was 155.8 pounds; the heaviest I have ever been in my life. Must have been all that cake. I realize that if you really want to see progress you need to wear minimal clothing so I took my own photos at home as well as more stringent measurements on a body analysis weight scale and with a measuring tape.
The Contest Starts: (this info may be extra and not pertinent – may skip to Final Stretch)
On Jan 21 I went for my first workout. Because I was sick with a serious chest infection for the first two weeks, I wasn’t recovering as well as I normally would. I was a hurtin’ unit but I stayed focused. At the mid-point weigh-in I was impressed that I’d lost 15 lbs already. One of the studio desk girls alluded to the fact that I was definitely in the lead for my branch. I asked what the percentage was that won last year but no one seemed to know. I asked my friend – the one who won a couple years back – and she said I should shoot for around 16% as that was higher than anyone she’d remembered ever winning. I decided to shoot for 20% just to be sure.
I had stalled the weight loss in the middle, so I did some investigation. One thing I realized was the calorie expenditure according to their heart rate monitor that you are required to wear was not accurate. It was no where close to what my Garmin monitor said I was burning. As I was tracking my calories and weighing my food, I had to adjust because I was overeating since I was factoring in the OTF calculation of calories out. As much as I wanted to believe I was burning 600 calories in 50 minutes, reality is it was much less.
Aside from one event, which was a TC (Transformation Challenge) workout, there was no other attention given to the competition. I’d seen that other clubs they gave t-shirts to the participating members and yet others had huge progress boards up showcasing the participants. At my branch, Strathcona, we got a ten-cent plastic party mask in either orange or black. I tried to be excited about that but everyone got one, not just TC challenge participants. It didn’t feel very special. They had a cheap sheet cake for people to eat after the TC Workout — come on, who is going to eat that if they are in a weight loss challenge? Thank goodness it looked awful and was no temptation at all.
Did I mention that entrants were required to pay $25 for the TC privilege? I wondered what they did with all that money. The rewards totaled $13,000: 9 branches x $500 plus the extra $2000 for female and male regional. I know that there was way more than 520 people participating in over 9 branches. I was told there were close to 100 in my branch alone and we are one of the smallest studios. I guess what was left was being put towards the TC Wrap Up Party? I got excited thinking that is going to be a hell of a party. That is unless they use the TC as a revenue source. When paying almost $200 a month for a gym membership one would think they wouldn’t nickel-and-dime you like that. You would think.
In the last few days of the challenge I was getting very excited. I’d pushed myself beyond what I thought I could and I was already into the high 120s. My goal was to get to 125 and that looked like it was going to be easy. I would hit 124 if I stuck with my program. I began asking the studio how the winning was going to work, as I was pretty confident it’d be me. The staff couldn’t say for sure but they said it was very likely with my numbers as they were. I found out they were doing weigh-ins over three days rather than just the one day as I was told at the start. But there was not a lot of other info and no one seemed to have any answers. I looked on OTF Edmonton’s Facebook page for clues as to how last year’s TC went.
Change of Rules:
Here is where things start getting dicey. I discovered that last year, each branch’s biggest loser was put into a popularity contest on social media. Whoever got the most likes, comments, and shares won the big $ prize. I was floored. I was also alarmed because this felt really wrong. I went straight to my branch to get confirmation. No one, including the manager, seemed to know. But a few coaches I spoke to doubted it would be like that as it was supposed to be percentage of weight lost. Their agreement that it just couldn’t come down to a popularity contest was some comfort. I felt a little bit better but still uneasy. Once again, I asked for the rules and regulations of the contest. No one had them or knew where to get them. I insisted that where $2000 was at stake surely there would have to be something in writing. They promised they would ask and get back to me. It was another lie. No one ever responded.
I’d been using the OTF Reddit community for information and support throughout the challenge. There were members from OTFs worldwide here and many times I would get intel on the days workout a day or two in advance. OTF Corporate didn’t like that much and made a serious point of banning anyone who posted too far ahead. I guess their daily workout recipes are a secret or proprietary? I didn’t really understand why they were so controlling.
On March 1 I posed the question if any other studio was running their TC as a popularity vote.
(https://www.reddit.com/r/orangetheory/comments/awa2pz/transformation_challenge_winner_decided_by_a/) According to the response, not only was no other studio doing such a thing, it wasn’t allowed. According to the US TC rules (https://www.orangetheoryfitness.com/terms-of-use), clearly posted on their site, the winner must be decided by “highest percentage of weight loss”. The majority of the respondents agreed that turning the contest into a social media marketing scheme was unethical, unsafe, and unfair.
Words like disgusting, ridiculous, outraged, and crazy were all used in reference to the idea of such a thing.
New information: When I was looking back on this post for this article, I discovered that Cameron Main, the OTF Director of Corporate Studios had responded.
https://www.reddit.com/r/orangetheory/comments/awa2pz/transformation_challenge_winner_decided_by_a/ehm015b?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x At the time, I just assumed he was another member. His account was created that day and has never made a post since. He said ”Actually… from what I understand last years first place in both the male and female category was the highest % lost in the city… I was at the party. The big winner lost 16%. It was awesome. I only lost 9. Still winning!” This post gives the impression that he took part in the contest. Yet another lie. Obviously, staff cannot compete.
According to Cameron Main’s LinkedIn profile, he’s been a regional manager at OTF for the last 5 years. Before that, he was a bar manager at Hudsons (where the TC wrap-up party is held). Remember, this is all new information I am learning today as I write this.
Another Edmonton member taking part in the contest said https://www.reddit.com/r/orangetheory/comments/awa2pz/transformation_challenge_winner_decided_by_a/ehse34v?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x
“I have to admit – I was quite taken by surprise by this ‘social media’ thing when my studio head coach mentioned it yesterday. I don’t remember seeing or hearing anything about it at any time before yesterday. The only thing I’d heard – repeatedly, by the coaches, at the end of every session when they were trying to convince us to sign up – was that winners were decided by percentage of weight loss. I also know they mentioned both the $500 studio prize and $2500 for the citywide winner…so I was definitely left with the same impression as the OP.”
OTF Edmonton caught wind of the discussion and chimed in. They also created their Reddit account that day, I now suspect that this was also Cameron Main. https://www.reddit.com/r/orangetheory/comments/awa2pz/transformation_challenge_winner_decided_by_a/ehlg1r6?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x
“Reaching out on behalf of OTF Edmonton.
First and foremost, I want to apologize if there was any confusion surrounding the prizing of our Transformation Challenge. I want to start off by clarifying that each location in the region is committed to the prizing that is recommended for all studios for both males and females, which is awarded based on the official rules of the contest (% of weight lost). In other words, each studio still has winners for both male and female which will each be awarded a cash prize.
In addition to the standard prizing that is offered at all studios, each location has also pooled extra resources to host a Transformation Challenge party to celebrate all the members in the city and their accomplishments, as well as provide a supplemental prize, which is voted on by the members. For this specific prize, we ask each winner from each location to share their story and how Orangetheory Fitness has helped them. The rest of the members from across the city are then asked to vote for their favorite story. We saw a tremendous turnout from our members last year and winners from across the city shared a number of memorable stories and experiences.
I hope this helps clarify your concerns on prizing, but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to the studio!”
I was mad when I learned that the grand prize was going to be won by means of social media. I didn’t have the motivation to continue my hardcore plan. It wasn’t going to matter anyway. I was certain I’d lost more than enough to win my branch, as some of the desk staff had subtly hinted. I decided to go in for my weigh-in more than a day early. I had been dreaming about my victory supper for days and saw no benefit in delaying it since it wouldn’t help me in the regional contest. And I needed to preserve my strength for the social media campaign I was going to have to launch.
First End of Contest:
I went into the branch and weighed in at 126.4 pounds. I lost 30 lbs in 6 weeks. No small feat. I was pretty happy with that and asked when I would find out the end results. They said “probably tomorrow night.” I went home and prepared the epic feast that I would share with my parents.
I understand the time and effort that goes into social media influencing. It is not something I enjoy but I am well-versed and have extensive experience with it. At TravelPod/Expedia, more than a decade ago, I was one of the pioneering social media community managers; a job which burned me out. It stressed me out just thinking about having to wear that hat again after so many years but one thing I am is determined. I had said I was going to win, I was going to win. I finish what I start, and I am also very adaptable. I was thrown a curveball but I can knock it out of the park.
A couple of days after my final weigh-ins, I got the call from the manager of my home studio, that I had won my branch. She requested a write-up of my story so they could post it on the grand prize contest on Facebook. I wrote up a heartfelt account of what I had gone through and sent it to her within a few hours. It said:
“I’ve struggled with depression and mental health for many years. I self-medicated with food and alcohol because it was the only thing that would numb the pain. I joined OTF specifically to do this challenge after my friend told me she believed I could win. I guess something in how she said it made me think for a second that maybe I could.
Over the past 6 weeks it’s been hard but every time I slip into a negative mindset, I just go to the gym. Loneliness and doubt that came with drinking was replaced with connection and accountability at OTF. Social exercise has been life-changing. I am more hopeful and happy and even the bad days are easier to cope with.. If I can finish a 26-minute run or 20 burpees, I can probably manage the situation.
The best part is that I seem to have kicked my alcohol habit, which I had been trying to do for years. I now feel a LOT stronger, physically AND emotionally. And now instead of having to believe other people who believe in me, I can believe in myself.”
I waited for the contest post to go up and began strategizing how I’d tackle the momentous task of convincing my more than 1500 Facebook friends to vote for me in something so obviously twisted. To be honest, over the years I have built up quite a bit of social cred and really don’t ask for much. I was hoping this would act in my favor.
Beginning of Second Contest:
On Friday March 8 at 5:00pm I saw that the post had gone up. I read through the other contestants stories and liked their posts, giving them one of their first votes to get things moving. I also posted a photo with the caption “Strong Women lift each other up” pictured with some barbells. It thought it was a cute way to show that we can support each other and keep this positive. I only heard back from one contestant and she said “I want to like your picture but I don’t want to lose by one vote” I thought it a bit strange but just said I would hug her at the party instead then. That was the first interaction I had with “Bertha”.
When I got to my post (which was last) I noticed that there was no story. Odd, since I had submitted it 3 days earlier. I got a little worried because I knew the manager was off for the weekend. I messaged OTF Edmonton on Facebook and let them know of their mistake. They asked me to send it to them and I did. Shortly after they had edited my post and I was able to start campaigning.
Anyone who uses FB knows that it is very easy to get thrown into FB jail if you are not careful. As I run my own online business on FB, I understand the delicate nature of the beast. That said, I realized it was going to take me more than a week to actually reach out to everyone personally. I did the obvious post announcing that I was running in the contest and got many votes from that. I didn’t want to be repetitive and ask people who’d already voted to vote again so I kept a spreadsheet of who had voted, who I had already asked, and who I could follow up with. I was very meticulous. Even so I know I double asked because some people were voting on the wrong post; therefore I had to reask and redirect them to the post that counted. It was quite a job. But I was committed.
One positive outcome was that I was reconnecting with many old friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. I was getting a lot of encouragement and kudos, which felt great. I liked that, even though it felt a little disingenuous asking for them to vote for me so I could win a weight-loss competition. Thankfully, none of them pointed out the fly in the pudding. Most were very graceful and, of course, complied with my request. They are after all, my friends. But make no mistake, there was not one moment I was unaware of the crooked root of the FB competition. I was well-aware that I was in essence selling and marketing OTF in order to win a contest that had nothing to do with health or fitness. I was winning the popularity contest from day 1 because I am a social media expert. I also understand online community. I felt slightly guilty for the others who clearly did not have the skills I had.
At one point, my male counterpart winner at my home branch reached out in desperation. He asked how I was doing it and how he could get more votes. I explained that he needed to talk to everyone and to keep trying. He admitted he didn’t have many FB friends. I suggested he join some groups and make friends there. I didn’t want to tell him he didn’t have a chance against one of the other male contestants who had a stronger social media presence. I understood that most people do not have friend lists in the thousands and many who were in the contest didn’t even seem to be active on social media. It was definitely unfair to those who didn’t have social media marketing skills.
In any case, I plugged along every few hours sending my messages out. You cannot send out too many at a time or FB will block you from messaging. They try to keep spamminess down to a minimum and they have bots to protect from this. This was a full-time effort since you can’t just message 1500 people at once. You have to do about 20 at a time and then wait.
I was in the lead from day one. By midweek my votes were growing and I was well ahead of anyone else. I knew I had this in the bag since it seemed like no one else was really campaigning like I was. I did see several studios rallying votes for their members and felt disappointed that mine wasn’t doing that for the the other branch winner and me. But then again, they didn’t really seem too interested in the TC at all. I didn’t even get a congratulations when I came in for my first workout after the win. The staff barely noticed me. I was told I would get the $500 check on my next visit, but when I asked for it they all seemed confused. They looked around and said there was nothing for me. I was like, um, for the TC? They said dryly, “Oh yeah, right. No idea.” They said it would probably be here by the next time I came in. I then asked if I could get the photo that the other studios were taking with their winners of the BIG check. They seemed bothered but found it in the back and scribbled my name on the reusable 4 foot plastic board, handed it to me, and snapped a photo. I tried to be excited but it seemed super awkward to have to ask for congratulations. I still have yet to see that photo posted anywhere.
The $500 check wasn’t there the next time I came in either. That time they said I would get it at the Friday TC party at my studio. Here is the email invite from March 3:
“Happy Finale of the Transformation Challenge Team Orange and Black!!!
PLEASE come join us for the Wrap up Party and Prize money ceremony of Strathcona Studio’s Male and Female $500 winners of the Transformation Challenge on FRIDAY MARCH 8 @ 7 – 8:30PM!! We will have some goodies and treats to offer so come join us in a 5:45pm 3G workout and hang out for the post party afterwards!!! Also be sure to join us in celebration of the Edmonton Region’s 1st2nd and 3rd place winners on SATURDAY MARCH 23 2 2:30-4:00 AT HUDSONS DOWNTOWN.”
When I went in next they reminded me to make sure I signed up for the 5pm class and stay for my celebration party afterwards. I started to get excited about that. The day before the party the studio manager told me the party was off. She seemed apologetic and said she was new and didn’t really know what was going on. She said we would all just celebrate at the big TC party in two weeks at Hudson’s Bar downtown. Ugh. More waiting! I guess at that point I realized that the $500 was not coming for at least another two weeks. Just add it to the list of “misunderstandings” or as I call them now, lies.
At this point I was feeling a little deflated so I cancelled my Friday 5pm workout. The next time I went in I overheard the Coach finishing up the last class mention my name as I was walking in the door. She was reminding people to go on Facebook and vote for me and the male winner of my branch, the winners of the TC. It was a small thing but huge for me since no one else was really recognising my win. I held onto that tiny bit of encouragement and rode that wave. Unfortunately, it was a one-time thing. The next time I went in I was invisible again. It felt weird and I kinda avoided going to workout since I wasn’t getting good vibes. I didn’t understand it. I found out from the pet rescue group of which I’m part that I was getting an abandoned mother cat and her newborns to foster the coming weekend. So I held onto that and it really cheered me up.
I didn’t have much energy since I was spending so much time in front of the computer. I just told myself “one more week.” I was exhausted. But I was very much ahead of everyone else. In fact I had pretty much double the votes of the person in second place.
Cyber-Bullying and Harassment
On Friday, March 15, I was messaging more of my friends for their vote when I got a bizarre message. It was a pretty disturbing photo from an animal-rights group. I was disgusted by it, deleted it, and thought nothing more of it. An hour later I got another one this time; quite a bit more violent and graphic, clearly aimed at shocking me. I was quite upset. Minutes later I got a message actually addressed to me from an obviously made-up name but threatening me to quit the contest. It took me about 20 seconds to realize this had something to do with the OTF TC. I was really scared. I had no idea where this was coming from or who these people were. I just kept deleting and blocking them. I received at least a dozen within a few hours.
One of the messages referenced my “box of ripped up bloody flesh” getting delivered. I realized they had watched my TruLocal meat delivery service; I’d done a few unboxings on my Facebook page. At this point I was feeling really exposed and I began scrambling to try and change my settings to private. I considered deactivating my FB account but realized this would have a huge impact on my home-based business. It would be business suicide to disappear. Even changing my settings to ultra-private would have an impact on my sales and marketing but I had to protect myself until this was sorted out.
I went onto the contest page and tried to find any evidence of other people being targeted but I saw nothing. I checked out other contestants’ FB profiles but saw nothing out of the ordinary until I got to the person directly behind me, in second place. We will call her “Bertha”.
When I looked in her “shares” I found numerous posts using scare tactics, hate speech, and targeting flesh-eaters. Now it all made sense. Someone she knew, one of her friends, was posting dozens of messages appealing to extremist groups to “go to war” for their comrade.
I realized that I was “that woman” who buys meat by the BOX full. I am “the carnist who will buy $2000 of raped and tortured flesh of their brothers and sisters.” These extremists were fueled by the fear that the woman she is up against will spend the money on chopped up body parts of their brethren. Using terms like “comrade” and “important call to action” give the impression this is a war. No wonder I was getting attacked.
Now look. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I eat a keto diet. But just because I eat meat, like most of the rest of the population, doesn’t mean I abuse animals. I was shaking when I realize the person I was being painted as. I have been involved in animal rescue and fostering for more than 25 years so I felt this blow on a very deep level. I felt like throwing up, to be associated with someone who would condone animal abuse or torture like I was being accused of in these messages.
The TruLocal meat delivery service I subscribe to deliver ethical, sustainable, local, grassfed, and finished beef and is a company that has very high standards with the supplier they use. I specifically use their service because I am fully-aware of factory farms and the problems in our meat industry today. I was in shock that I was being targeted as someone who has no regard for life.
It was then late on Friday night, and I realized that no one is going to be awake to help me. So I messaged Bertha first at 11pm. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt but it was clear “Conny” was a very close friend of hers, and that Bertha was onboard and encouraging these messages to “keep the money out of meat eaters hands.“
I messaged her.
I’d posted on Reddit a few minutes earlier, hoping OTF Edmonton would see and respond since they’d had a presence there before. Bertha asked me to remove the Reddit post and I did so believing her when she said she would work to make this right.
Then I didn’t hear from her for a long while.
I messaged OTF Edmonton FB and alerted them what was going on along with screenshots. Clearly they’d see this in the morning and put things right. I felt bad that she was going to withdraw and thought that maybe they could just delete the link, which would disable all those shares to the extremist groups, then repost her entry and make sure those shares didn’t happen again.
In the morning I woke, still shaken but determined to get this put right. I wasn’t getting a response from OTF Edmonton so I called my home OTF studio. The front desk girl was very disinterested and suggested I call the police if I was getting threatened. I tried to explain that it was coming through the OTF Edmonton TC contest post and she still didn’t understand the gravity of it. I asked if she could please get the manager to call me. She answered that the manager wouldn’t be in until Monday. I explained this was something of a time-sensitive issue. I asked for the name of the owner of the studio; she didn’t know. I asked the name of a higher-up I could reach out to. She said she had no names for me and didn’t know. She said she would try to get the manager to call me back. That didn’t happen.
At 830am Saturday I got a message back from OTF Edmonton via FB messenger:
I waited. Two hours later still nothing and now Bertha had changed her tune. She said “we both have to accept we did put ourselves out to the public. This comes with criticism as well as encouragement.” Lady, I did not sign up for this. A pit formed in my stomach as I realized not only was she not going to quit but she had no intention of changing her strategy of targeting me and painting me as an enemy to extremist activist groups.
At this point, Bertha disappeared off social media. She made private all her accounts. However, her friend “Conny” continued to post on her behalf.
10:42am I wrote back to OTF:
I was getting frantic at this point realizing I wasn’t getting help. I searched high and low (and I am pretty darn internet resourceful as you can see) but there was no contact info or names of people in corporate. OTF Canada management and owners names were just nowhere to be found. They had locked down any personal information and given only a very generic info. On their contact page https://www.orangetheoryfitness.com/contact-us you could 1. Find a studio. 2. Get Franchise Info. 3. Press Inquiries. There was no easy way to contact a human. I was perplexed why they made it so hard to reach out. They did make it extremely easy to sign up and give them your money though. They had invested a lot into making that very user friendly. Clearly they didn’t want to hear any concerns or complaints. Had they never heard about the importance of transparency?
I remembered watching OTF do a segment on a morning news show a while ago so I searched out the clip and found Cameron Main identified as the Regional Director on the bottom of the screen. I found his personal profile on FB and reached out to him. Surely HE would want to clear this up, right?
I never did get a response from him on this message. I am realising that Cameron Main is likely the one person who I was corresponding with the entire time, on Reddit, OTF Edmonton FB and from their corporate office. This could be why I was getting stonewalled through this whole process.
I was desperate for some help. I felt completely exposed and alone. I tried to post on the OTF Reddit community but the post was quickly deleted. Then the mods threatened to ban me if I tried to post again, even if I did adhere to privacy standards. They had been strict before with rules but I never felt shut down and unwelcome like I did that day. Something had changed and I felt I was being silenced. They purport not to be affiliated with OTF corporate but have my serious doubts after seeing how they handle any threat to their “brand”. I guess when you are anonymous on the internet you can say you are anyone. How can anyone check? Infact, you can say you are everyone, how would we know?
Then I received a message back from OTF Edmonton FB messenger at 12:20pm
“At this point we are still investigating and gathering information. We have submitted a request to Facebook to continue monitoring for any breaches in their community standards, and would encourage you to do the same. At this point that is our best course of action.
To address the disqualification, we can not disqualify a member from our contest for the actions of others, and will not entertain that direction.”
I reposted the shot that showed that Bertha was clearly onboard with this. Her friend (who appeared to be someone she was quite close to) was acting on her direction and encouragement! How could they allow this kind of defamation and dishonorable tactics to be a part of their contest?
I was getting more and more sick. I couldn’t even calm down, I was shaking so badly. Was this really happening?
Then five minutes later I got their final message. They were going to do nothing.
I’m on my own
I sat in complete shock. For the next few hours I went through hell. It all became very very clear to me and it was terrifying. I was being used by a corporation to get publicity at my expense. They had created a virtual fight club and were allowing me to get targeted by extremist groups via shares on their contest post, to profit by the attention. Any publicity is good publicity right? By them allowing this behavior, they were saying that they stand for hate speech, cyber-bullying, harassment, and condone cheating to “win”. I realized that as long as my name and photo were up, and those posts were allowed to stand, not to mention the many more than came over the next week, I would be targeted, slandered, harassed, and possibly threatened. This was psychological terrorism.
And this was exactly the social media circus they wanted. After all, it’s all about the clicks, right?
I was in a really bad place. I had found sobriety almost two months ago. But this was almost too much to bear. I really really wanted to drink. But I knew, that if I did, it would be suicide for me. I knew that for a fact. But I felt so alone, so trapped, so scared, so exposed.
I reached out to a friend:
[16:19, 3/16/2019] Carmella: i feel really upset and unstable
[16:19, 3/16/2019] Carmella: trying to not drink
[16:20, 3/16/2019] Carmella: no appetite
[16:20, 3/16/2019] Carmella: just dont want to be a part of something so wrong on so many levels
[16:20, 3/16/2019] Carmella: i feel exploited
[16:20, 3/16/2019] Carmella: i feel vulnerable
[16:20, 3/16/2019] Carmella: i feel bullied
[16:21, 3/16/2019] Carmella: i feel used
I was a shell of a soul. I had a couple friends rally to keep me safe. My family was extremely worried. I finally understand why people kill themselves over cyber-bullying. You don’t know who it is, where they are, or what they will do. It is terrifying and OTF was not going to help or protect me.
I finally realized my only option was to withdraw from the contest and get my photo/name taken down. Even though I was winning, I would have to lose to keep my sanity.
I began to write my apology to all the friends and family that had voted for me, that had said I was an inspiration, that were cheering me on. I tried to explain why I had to quit. I felt so defeated. I felt so angry. This was so wrong. So unfair.
I got another deluge of support and messages urging me not to quit. So many people were enraged that OTF was allowing this to happen. OTF had created a hostile environment and refused to police it, moderate it, or make a statement disallowing cyber-bullying. They took no responsibility for the mess that they’d made. In fact, they were clearly enjoying the exposure.
I had reached out to TruLocal, the meat delivery company and explained what was happening and that I would need to hide the unboxing video to keep myself safe. They were so compassionate and empathetic about my situation. They said they had dealt with extremist animal rights and vegan groups as well. They encouraged me and showed me how a real business with integrity and morals behaves. It was such a stark contrast to how OTF had treated me. TruLocal actually even posted my contest link on their social media asking their customers to help support me.
A few days later, I received a surprise free meat box at my door, as a token of encouragement to cheer me up. I got emotional realizing that I may be dealing with the worst of the worst with OTF but I also am experiencing the best of the best with TruLocal. What a dichotomy.
I posted my plight on my keto FB support group and asked how they had handled persecution from vegan extremists. I asked their advice if I should quit to preserve my mental health.
The response from this post and the post I made on my FB personal page was incredible. People felt so strongly about the injustice of the situation that they decided to make a statement. Not only were they going to not let me quit, they made sure I won by a landslide. Now to be very clear, I was never losing. From day 1 I’d had a healthy lead. I feel that’s important to point out because I would have won this contest withOUT this movement. But I will admit that having that level of support made it much easier to stick it out. Knowing that I had so many people who stood behind me and for what is right. It gave me hope.
Many people were reaching out to OTF Edmonton on my behalf, asking why they were allowing this, and expressing their opinions. I am sure OTF was not prepared for the backlash but they still refused to change their position. When I checked on Sunday, and throughout the following week, those inflammatory shares to extremist groups remained, and more were posted daily.
By the end of the weekend I had more than 2500 votes. The closest contestant (who happened to be “Bertha”) only had 400. It was bitter-sweet. I would have won by my own merit if OTF had kept the contest safe and fair. But they allowed Bertha to turn it into an animal-rights platform demonizing me as the enemy. No other contestants had received hate messages about their lifestyle. It was obvious “the woman” she was at war with was me, and the fact that OTF said that it was not “directed at any person in particular” was complete and utter BS. She vilified me because I ate meat and took the opportunity to use that as ammo to get votes to win money.
The thing that really irked me was that she kept saying she would donate a portion of the winnings to an animal rescue. I belong to an animal rescue! It was so messed up; I was actually fostering 3 newborn kittens and their mother who’d been abandoned while all this as going on. I don’t need to win money to donate my time, love, and resources to animal rescue, and I don’t need to twist a TC contest to win.
At this point my security settings were tight, and my online business was suffering as I took a break from social media to recover. I felt somewhat stronger yet still traumatized by the situation. I decided to hold on until Thursday when all this would be over. It was only 4 more days until the voting deadline. After 2 months what’s 4 more days? Then on Saturday I’d get my award at the ceremony and be able to put this all in the past. This was not about me anymore. This was about standing up for what is right, honest, and true.
By Monday, the abuse had spilled over to the OTF contest page. I was being called a cannibal, and told that I eat other people. Now even the vegans were getting upset because of these extremist views. I have many vegan and vegetarian friends who were quite quick to point out that this behavior was not okay. One good friend who happens to be vegan actually started messaging the people he knew that had supported the woman who started all this. Many of them were alarmed to learn of her tactics and changed their vote.
The entire thing was bordering on the insane. I was sure at this point OTF would say something. Surely they would make a statement and let people know this was not ok. Wrong. They just deleted that one post. And all the outrage that came after. People were livid that they were not standing up for me and allowing people to use their contest to cyberbully someone because of their lifestyle.
So now OTF has their hands full deleting comments and responding to people who are upset that they are allowing this. I did let people know that I didn’t agree with any anti-vegan propaganda. I also said that bullying anyone, even the bully, was unacceptable. I begged people not to post anger on her page, if for no other reason that each comment counts as a vote.
OTF seems lost a lot of potential customers through this. Many people expressed to me that they would never step foot in a company that behaved this way. Clearly OTF Edmonton got caught with their pants down and rather than apologize and do the right thing they continued to allow it. At this point, they must have realized that their plan had backfired. I wouldn’t know. Not once did they reach out to me and check if I was ok. Not once did they contact me at all. I heard – through a stranger on a group who had messaged them – that they blocked the woman who had called me a cannibal. Why would they not have reached out to me to let me know that? I had radio silence from them.
On Monday at 4pm I was (not) surprised that the manager of my studio still hadn’t called me back. I called her at end of day and she gave me the same I don’t know answers she always has. I insisted that she find someone who could help me, and she promised she would get Christine Dibb to call me. Lie. No one from OTF called.
On Thursday I was so relieved that in just a couple days this would be over. I was very excited to get on stage at the awards event and celebrate my win, thanking all the people who had pulled me through. I had planned to live video it to share on Facebook. Other members who had seen what was going on had reached out in support and were going to be there with me. I was so excited to be an example of good and truth prevailing.
As for the votes, nothing had changed. I was still winning by more than 2200 votes. No one else had even broken 500. But something inside me led me to believe that something else was going to go wrong. I mean, OTF Edmonton had lied, changed the rules, and broken promises throughout the entire contest. Why would that be any different now?
I was right. Just a few hours before midnight Thursday evening, I received the following email from Cameron Main. So, I thought to myself, he does exist….
When I read this I was heartbroken. They were robbing me of my party and celebration once again. I was most concerned that they might find a way to change the rules and not let me win. I also couldn’t fathom the concept of having to wait even longer to put an end to this. I needed closure and there was no way I could wait until who-knows-when. With all the stress of the last few weeks, I had lost a lot of sleep and had resorted to taking sleeping pills at night. My appetite was non-existent and I had lost even more weight.
I messaged Cameron right away and asked him to please call me in the morning. I proceeded to take screenshots of my entire page of comments and record every person who voted for me. This wasn’t an easy task but I wanted to remember this and I also worried I may have to use it as evidence. I mean, deleting and censoring had been their MO for the last week, but that doesn’t make it go away.
In the morning, Cameron emailed me asking what I wanted to talk about and that he would get the right person to call me back. I responded trying to play nice:
Thank you for getting back to me so promptly this morning. I have had a rough night. This process has been very very stressful on me and since there is no ceremony (FOR THE WOMEN) at Hudsons I am requesting that I can just pick up the check today or tomorrow AM. I need closure on this asap as it is affecting my mental health.
I did all the things I was asked of OTF Edmonton to win: I lost the most weight in my branch, I got the most votes ( I was in the lead the whole time because of my hours and hours campaigning with my friends and family), I had people sharing on their pages, and even other businesses sharing, I had SO much support and was told I was an inspiration. I even got some people to join OTF because of my referral. I did everything OT asked including tolerate the person who targeted me because I was winning.
In any case, i am happy to hear you are finalizing everything today. I don’t think I can take the stress of more time. As opposed to mail (I cannot receive it), I need to pick up my check or I can have someone else pick it up if you would prefer. Once I have the check I will consider this done and I won’t be going to hudsons. By putting this to bed, I will finally be able to move on and focus on my health.
I appreciate all you guys have done and am working really hard to remember this as a positive experience so I am begging for you help with that.
Thank you and please let me know
He responded: We can arrange for a pick up early next week from our head office.
At this point, I was getting pretty stressed. I needed this over. I called the manager at my home studio and begged her to please call him on my behalf. She said she did but that it was all out of her hands.
I wrote him back again:
I really have to insist that I need the pick up today or tomorrow at the latest. I don’t feel it is finished until I have the check. Please. I won’t be able to pick it up next week. I understand I am asking alot but am barely holding on here. I was told I had to wait until tomorrow at Hudsons and now I have to wait longer? I really can’t even sleep until this is over and the check for $2500 is in the bank and I can not worry that SOMETHING else is going to go wrong.
I struggle with mental health and this has been my whole focus for two weeks now. I am also a recovering alcoholic and I am trying so hard not to drink. I was told by my branch manager that I would get the $500 the day after the weigh in and that didn’t happen. I was told to wait. I did. No one seemed to have clear or consistent information. I have some trust issues at this point.
Please make an exception and I can have someone come if you don’t want me to come. I can also give my etransfer email if that helps. I just need this to be done so I can finally sleep. I haven’t done anything wrong to be penalized to have to wait longer than was promised. Please don’t punish me for the drama that was initiated by someone else.
Several hours later, this was the response:
I have the cheques in my hand at this time. I am going to be mailing them at end of day, today. If you would like to pick up the cheque in the amount of $2500 before that time it will be available at our offices downtown until 5 pm. The cheque is at the front reception desk ready for you to pick it up.
The address is 100 -10359 109 Street Edmonton Alberta T5J-1N3
I want to thank you for your offer to not attend the event tomorrow. I also believe that it would be better that we avoid the chance for this to escalate any further. We are asking the other contestant who was part of this issue not to attend the event as well.
Thank you again for your patience in this matter, and I want to officially congratulate you as our regional winner in the Edmonton Wide TC 2019.
With mixed feelings, I rushed over to the head office to pick up my check before they changed their mind. I was elated to be not only finished with the whole thing but to have WON THE ENTIRE CONTEST. I knocked on the door, and a woman answered asking who I was. I told her Carmella with a smile. I explained I was here to pick up a check. I took a step in but very quickly realized I wasn’t welcome. The entire staff that was in the huge room was staring at me, and not in a good way. I backed up and waited outside the door. The woman dropped the check in my hand but if looks could kill…
I deposited the check seconds later with my mobile banking app. I don’t trust this company at all. The moment that was done I felt I could breathe for the first time in weeks. When I got home I spent some time just recovering. I saw the TC Celebration Party ticket on the corner of my table and felt sad for a moment. I had to cancel all my plans and tell my friends not to come. Other members who said were excited to meet me at the party would be out of luck. I decided to just find a way to celebrate myself. I guess the other women from the other branches would be angry that even though they could go to the party, only the men would be celebrated. I hoped they didn’t blame me.
10 Seconds of Recognition:
The next day I had to attend my last workout so I went in for the 12pm class. I was glad to see it was Alicia teaching; she is one of the few that I feel comfortable with. The front desk staff acted like I was invisible again and I gathered that they had been instructed not to pay any attention to me. I was a bit sad they didn’t even mention the win or even smile. The Team Orange coach was there (my team) and pretended not to see me. I approached her and thanked her for “everything”. She nervously said, “Oh yeah, congratulations, you won.” It was beyond awkward. She mentioned she didn’t know if she would be able to make it to the party, and I said “well I am not allowed to go anyway.” She just stared blankly and then changed the subject to ask what I was going to do with the money.
My class went quite well as I had more energy than in weeks. At the end during stretching Coach made a point to announce the TC party and excitedly looked at me. “You’re obviously coming right?!” I said, No.
She looked dumbfounded and asked why?
“I’m not allowed.”
“WHAT?! But you WON! You are the WINNER!”
She said “Well! I have never heard of that before.” She went on to announce to everyone there that I was the TC winner and congratulate me. Everyone clapped and cheered. I almost cried.
I left the room, went to the desk and cancelled my membership. They didn’t even ask why. In fact, they had never been so sweet to me in the entire two months I was there. They made quitting one of the most pleasant OTF experience I have had. As I walked out, I hollered back to them, “Hey, have fun at MY party”.
As they had uninvited me, I stayed away from the party, although I will admit it didn’t feel right. I worked so hard for all this. And now it seemed I was being shamed or punished. At the very least, hidden. They posted the following statement. I don’t know what they are talking about “early end”. They kept the contest and their likes coming in until Thursday at midnight. All they ended was celebrating the Women.
The responses now have been praise that OTF were standing up for what was right. Why didn’t they do this when it mattered to me? Why did they wait until their Facebook marketing contest was hours from over? It makes me sick. I am so angry. I didn’t agree to be hidden and not recognized! People are being led to believe that I did something wrong. Many have messaged me and asked why they won’t announce that I won?
I guess that’s $150 down the drain, since I have to pay for the last month of the membership (30 day cancellation policy they won’t waive). They have made the environment pretty inhospitable and uncomfortable for me to use it. I am not interested in reliving this and explaining myself every time some member asks what happened while waiting for our workout to start. And by OTF hiding it and trying to cover it all up, it just makes people that much more curious about the “controversy”. OrangeTheory, you had SO many chances to make this right. I reached out more than a dozen times to so many people, in so many ways. You failed. You embarrass yourself and all your members who bought into your lies.
What I have learned:
Never join a contest or competition that has no official rules. This only leads to confusion and allows the new rules to be revealed over time. That is dishonest and unfair.
When someone tries to bring you down with hate, send them love. People who engage in malicious bullying are living in a world of pain. Take pity on them, but protect yourself from their attacks. When they go low, you go high. Resist an “eye for an eye” response otherwise everyone ends up blind.
If someone or something lacks transparency, beware of hidden agendas and conditions. Do not trust these people or businesses. Hiding information is a hallmark of deception and fraud. Censorship is manipulation of the truth.
Support business that support you. Every dollar you spend is a vote. Vote for honesty, integrity, and businesses that do the right thing, even when it’s not the popular choice.
No one is perfect. But if you screw up, own up to it and make it right. When you delete and pretend it didn’t happen, it will inevitably get bigger. When you censor and try to shut it up, it will get louder; the Streisand Effect. Just be honorable and people will forgive. When you knowingly deceive, people never forget.
You are stronger than you think. Life has a way of testing us. That is what builds strength and character. It’s a gift to have such lessons. When we come out the other side, we are inevitably a better version of ourselves. Don’t give up, when things seem too hard. Get help, but don’t give up.
Be very careful who you trust with your health. If you join a gym, take a close look at their “culture” and make sure it is not toxic. If they hire their management from bars and nightclubs, lower your expectations. If management looks like a bros club, there will likely be some gender bias.
Recognize your accomplishments. Don’t let anyone rob you of your win. It is so important to celebrate your hard work. Don’t depend on others to make that happen for you. If they uninvite you to your victory party, it’s a blessing in disguise. Your party is waiting for you elsewhere.
When you are in trouble, ask for help. If you do not get help, ask again. Do not stop asking until you get the help you need. Never allow someone to tell you to “just let it go” if you are suffering. Those people who minimize your struggle and say they want to avoid drama are not worth your time. Keep asking elsewhere. You WILL find your people. Eventually. And they will be worth your time.
Transformation is not something that can be measured by numbers. Not by pounds. Not by likes. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly, transformation comes when one commits to changing their life. Because with true transformation, one can never go back. It takes commitment, honesty, and will only survive the test of time if the intention is pure.
I hope that this story will find whoever is in charge at OTF and they will discontinue the way they run their TC in the Edmonton region. I worry because I understand that OTF Canada began here. The first franchise in Canada was built in St. Albert just 20 minutes away from where I live. When they have ONE corrupt person responsible for 9 branches things can go pear shaped fast. I pray that they are not trying to pilot this type of TC format, and that somewhere down the line, someone else may get hurt. Cyber-bullying is serious and has very real consequences. Any business that does not have a hard line on this, is complicit when it happens. Turning your head, deleting without stopping the problem at the root, allowing any kind of hate speech, tells the bully and the victim that your space is an environment this can exist.
I don’t want this to get swept under the carpet for the sake of the OTF brand. I think corporations that take advantage of people need to be exposed. We need to hold them accountable and force them to take responsibility when they do wrong. I will not shoulder the blame for their failure to do the right thing. I won’t allow them to imply that they are noble and righteous because they staged a cover up and lied. OTF Edmonton already stole my victory party from me, and now they are stealing my honor and dignity by implying I did something shameful. I guess they are not standing up to the lying bullies because they are lying bullies themselves.