A Caution to Abu Dhabi Racers: Three Years After the Middle East Championships, I Still Haven’t Been Paid.

In 2017 I attempted an ill-fated OCR comeback. My training culminated with the Spartan Middle Eastern Championships in Dubai, which was my first race since leaving the Pro Team in 2015. Just a quarter-mile into the race, as we threaded our way through the over/under/through wall section, and as I hoisted myself through a chest-high square opening in the wall, –a relatively routine movement I must have done 1000 times before– I felt something tear deep down in my stomach. Then the jolt of landing on the other side sent an immediate wave of sharp, crippling pain, so severe it brought me to my knees.

I knew something bad had happened, something worse than a cramp or muscle strain. but I had no time to dwell on it. And besides, dropping out was not an option. I had just spent 700 on the flight from Denver and the overall expenses for the trip were expected to top $1000. I needed to recoup some expenses. Such is life for the unsponsored racer.

If I could hold on for 10th place -which I knew paid $1000- it would make me even. So for the next three and a half hours, I stumbled along, enduring some of the more intense pain I’ve felt while navigating 19 miles over sketchy, mountainous terrain. My calves cramped, my hamstrings cramped, even my biceps seized up. All the time I thought about nothing else except that all-important $1000 dollar purse. And somehow, I did it.

I put off seeing a doctor for nearly two years, but eventually was diagnosed with and underwent laparoscopic surgery for an inguinal hernia. Rather than doing it state-side I opted to have it done in an Eastern European country known for its cheap medical procedures. These days I second guess the soundness of that decision. The ensuing eight-month recovery –and the almost comical myriad of issues that have since manifested– have effectively rendered me immobile. Running is out of the question these days, let alone simple things like coughing or sneezing without pain.

But at least I have those $1000 dollars, right? Well… that’s the thing. Here we are, nearly three years later, and I’m still waiting for prize money. Now, this is nothing new- I’ve waited months for substantially larger prize money before, and I know many racers who will never be made whole from now-defunct organizations. But this is Spartan, a company that has always taken care of business.

They took down bank account info, we’ve exchanged dozens of emails back and forth, I’ve spoken to basically everyone involved with the Race, from the U.A.E. race directors and Dubai Sports Council (who handled prize money) to bigwigs like Robert Coble and Joe De Sena. All roads led back to the Dubai Sports Council. First, the council said they paid me. Then they sent me a confirmation for a wire made to the Russian Champion, Sergei Perelygin. I let them know I’m not Sergei. Then they sent me Brakken’s banking information. I let them know I’m not Brakken. Eventually, the Council stopped responding. By now I’ve been ghosted entirely.

It’s 2020. Still no prize money for me. They couldn’t simply refuse to pay me, could they? The thing is, I’m actually not too sure of that anymore.

Now that my whining is out of the way, it’s important I state the following: as far as the overall review of racing in the U.A.E. goes, I can’t speak highly enough of the top-notch race experience the organizers put on, the incredible venue, the astounding city, and the welcoming people. I’ve raced in the Arab Emirates a couple of times, and those events were some of the most difficult and rewarding experiences I’ve had.

I’m sure the American racers won’t be happy with the venue, and I know they’ve been hesitant to race there in the past. In fact, I think my brother and I are the only Americans to podium there, let alone race. And while I’m not on social media anymore, I do know the fervor with which the audience tends to react to any sporting events in that part of the world. But to those of you on the fence, my recommendation would be to pull the trigger and make the trip. Try and actually experience the things you’re harping about. After all, the U.A.E. is full of multinationals of all shapes, colors, and orientations, and you’re unlikely to be arrested, treated with hatred, or discriminated against. But will you be paid, should you finish in the money? Now that’s an answer I’m not so certain about.

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Runner / Writer at Blue Highways
McCauley is a former Spartan Pro Team member, Spartan Stadium and Combine champion, and Men's Fitness 'Ultimate Athlete'.
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