September 08, 2008

It's Her Conscience

[Please note, the names in this post have been changed to protect the guilty, for some silly reason.]

You're not gonna believe this one. Actually, maybe you'll believe it, but I don't. And since I'm the one writing this blog, I'm allowed to assume that you feel exactly like I do.

A few months ago I got a random email from one of my loyal friendly blog readers about one of my race reports from years gone by. Said reader, who shall remain Anonymous, informed me that he was reading another bloggers race report and it seemed familiar. So he came back to one of my race reports and realized that this other blogger copied some of my first Ironman experiences and used it to describe her first Ironman experience.

In the writing world, we call that Plagiarism. In the blogging world, we call that What The Fuck?!

It seemed odd when Anonymous told me about it. So I went to read it myself, all the while giving this other blogger the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a misunderstanding, I thought. Maybe there were some similar experiences. Maybe my words even inspired her. But as I began to read through her race report, it seemed way too close to be coincidence. And as I got further into her so-called writing, all those maybes flew out the window and landed in a big pile of manure. This definitely was NOT coincidence.

First of all, it wasn't like the other blogger (who we'll call Julie) took a few words here and there. She took paragraphs. Entire paragraphs. Multiple paragraphs. Taken word for word from my Ironman race report to describe her Ironman experience. Big sections taken directly from my writing where the only things that were changed were self-descriptive details (age, name, home state, etc.)

Weird, huh? Well, it gets worse.

I did my first Ironman in 2006. Julie was writing about an Ironman experience in 2007 - yet still somehow she experienced the same exact weather that I did. Sure, maybe. But even weirder, I had raced Ironman Lake Placid, she did Ironman Louisville. Do you understand what I'm saying here? She used my description of the Lake Placid course to describe an ENTIRELY different one. I mean, everything was different about our experiences - different time of year, different state, different course, different everything... including different people. I am me and she is not. But apparently the same words work for both. Apparently, there are the same hills, the same wind, the same climbs, the same me, the same everything.

I was flabbergasted at the race report. I showed it to Catherine. Catherine read it and was shocked. She said she forgot it wasn't my race report. She said that she practically expected to get to the part where Julie kissed her at the end of the race.

Can you believe it? I couldn't either.

So I confronted Julie about her report. After all, I am a writer. I am forever working on a book. There is a good chance that my Ironman race report may show up in a novel. Lord knows, I don't want to get into a lawsuit about plagiarizing my own experience. Besides, plagiarism is a crime. At least in my eyes. So, as I said, I confronted her.

Julie was shocked. As if she didn't realize that her race report was a blatant rip-off of mine. As if she had no clue.

Crazy? Yeah, but get this...

Julie said that the year she did the Ironman was hectic. "My uncle was dying with bone cancer," she told me. "And so I was attending to him.. and my friend Beth helped by posting the race report. It was really tough... because not only did my uncle spend time in the hospice, but my best friend was dying from cancer... So I wasn't exactly attentive over what was getting put up as I was very distraught."

She wasn't attentive, she was distraught. She didn't have a lot of time to do blogging. For most of us that means we don't post any blogs, right? For Julie, it's different. She came up with a solution - an "editor / coblogger." A friend of Julie's wrote for Julie on Julie's blog as if she actually were Julie.

I repeat, she had her friend write her blog about her life because she was too busy living her life.

Which part of this makes sense to anybody?

Julie remained shocked. "I do not take plagiarism lightly," she told me. "Particularly from another athlete such as yourself, whom I respect and admire!" And plagiarize, apparently.

Let me contact her and ask her about this, Julie said. And she proceeded to send a note to her friend, the "co-blogger". We're calling her Beth. I was copied on the email where Julie asked Beth if she plagiarized my blog for the race report. It was a pretty straight-forward letter that clearly discussed plagiarism and clearly had me copied on it. Naturally, Beth copied me on her response. Here's what she said:

* * * *

"hi darling [editor's note: that's Julie she's calling darling, not me. just for the record],

excuse me for my tardiness in response we had a full weekend with mother and a party almost every single night not sure if you remember but also was peter's 40th birthday on saturday.

i remember when i was helping you post everything i researched and got information from a few other ironman race write ups to tell me what to say because i didn't really know what to talk about. sorry just didn't understand much about athletics you know me i like shopping much more my scene!

hope this didn't cause any trouble i am sorry if it did.

i'm back on thursday via heathrow shall we do coffee?"

* * * *

First of all, did I just end up as a side story in "The Devil Wears Prada?"

Oh, there are so many ways I can make fun of that letter, but I shan't in any of them at this point in time. I'll just focus on the part where Beth doesn't seem to feel like she did anything wrong.

Then again, let's even hold off on the not feeling like you're doing anything wrong part. Let's talk about the idea where you race your first Ironman. It's an awe-inspiring experience. An emotional and physical rollercoaster. A draining celebration of months of pain, sacrifice, focus and determination. Your first Ironman is a personal experience. It's a journey of self-discovery; a travel through your inner-being.

Julie went through all of that.
And then she had somebody else write about it.

And not just any old somebody, but somebody who is not an athlete, somebody who does not understand Ironman, somebody who did not even seem to talk to Julie much about the experience in the first place.

And then Julie knowingly posted it on her site as if it were real! How could she not know and approve of this being posted as her experience?!

Explain to me, in which part of this is Julie the victim?

"It looks like she had no idea what she was talking about," Julie followed up with me. "[I guess Beth] just "borrowed" inspiration from google. In retrospect, it did seem [weird that] she wrote so well about Ironman having no experience in triathlon."

To lie, to plagiarize - as if that's not deceitful enough. But I haven't even mentioned the comments yet.

Last I looked, there were 79 comments attached to her race report. Seventy nine. "That's incredibly written" they said. "What an amazing experience" they uttered. "That's the best race report I ever read" they proclaimed.

I got sick.

I wondered how Julie can let this happen and still feel good about herself. I wondered who else she had been plagiarizing from.

I told her to remove the post immediately (she did). I suggested that she contact every single blogger that she's plagiarized from and let them know. I suggested she apologize. I recommended that she write a post on her site letting her readers know that she's been deceiving them and stealing from others. I didn't try to force her to do this. It's her conscience, she's got to live with it. I just want my writing off her blog.

For four weeks I watched. Nothing changed. Periodically I'd get emails from her saying things like, "of course I will publish something on my blog about the report being plagiarized from you" and "I'm working on telling people, but it's so hard to put together."

And then, just as suddenly, my friend Anonymous returned and pointed me to another blog by another journalist, who is far removed from triathlon or sports. She had written a very personal, autobiographical essay about her childhood. It had already been published in a magazine and posted on her blog. Julie copied it and made believe it was her own. It's like if I took Barack Obama's autobiography, put my name and photo on it and claimed it as my own. The Audacity of Ironman.

There were 47 comments attached to that post. Among them were: "You are a beautiful woman and this post is amazing." And "you have an amazing way with words. I felt like I was reading a beautiful novel."

Shortly thereafter, Julie took her blog down. She informed me that she was getting abused by bloggers. That people were calling her a liar and a plagiarizer and she couldn't stand it anymore. I'm leaving the blog world, she said.


We're better off without you stealing from us.


Cat said...

if i hadn't lived through this with you i would think you were making it up ... it's just too absurd to be true. but [sigh] ... it is true and it still chaps my ass all these months later.

at least we know whose experience it truly was ... and who got to kiss me. ; ) cat.

Andra Sue said...

Dude, that is absolutely unreal. What a crappy experience. I'd have been livid! And the worst part is she apparently had a good number of readers. Yikes. Better off without her is an understatement.

Alison said...

Wow! That is totally shocking.

Two friends of mine who work at universities have recounted stories over the past couple of years of blatant plagiarism by grad students. This was bad enough in itself, but the worst part is that wrong-doers honestly seemed to think they had done nothing wrong when they copied academic works WORD FOR WORD and presented it as their own.

It's very distressing and disheartening. I'm glad you persisted and the woman was pressured into taking down her blog.

Anonymous said...

Who would do that? She has issues.

By the way, doing my first IM in December this year, are you interested in writing it up for me? I'm pretty sure I will be pretty tired, sored, happy, all the normal stuff. Just cut and paste will be fine.

Ana said...

I'm willing to bet that she didn't even do the Ironman. She and her co-blogger(s) may just be making up an exciting fantasty life.

IM Able said...

I'm in shock here. I mean, it's the lowest thing to do. Theft of experience. And within a community that would have said, hey, take your time...we understand if life is crazy. Instead, it was a lie. I'm just so shocked. I was one of those commenters on both of those posts. I feel like I have been had.

What a huge lack of integrity.

j. said...

hilarious Anonymous. actually, i'm thinking of starting a new race report service. i will sell anybody a race report for any race...

you race, i write.

Ironman race report: $100
Half-Ironman race report: $50
Olympic report: $25
Sprint report: $15

Add 25% for international races
Add $10 for each photo requested
Add $40 for each photoshop editing required to put you in photo
Add $50 to make you go faster than you really did

Anonymous said...

"abused by bloggers"

is that a crime to someone criminal? somehow i think the equation balanced itself out nicely.

what a loser. did she even do ironman or did some pinch hit for her the whole 140.6 miles?


Jennifer Harrison said...

Um, and no royalties for you? Seriously, why? Unbelievable. I am sorry! Jen H.

jbmmommy said...

How bizarre. I can't imagine the point of even having the blog to share experiences that aren't yours. You should be flattered that so many people enjoyed your writing. Twice. Good for you that you stuck up for yourself, Julie's got problems.

Train-This said...

The worst part of all of this...... from Sept until about Feb I coached this girl. And was lied to repeatedly. When I realized whom I was dealing with I had to let her go. Believe me she is a very sad human being. Very sad.

I spent a lot of time listening to her talk about this race..... the way she or rather YOU described in your report, again as if your words were hers..... and the other post she stole.... same thing.

And she has since disappeared. She has some serious issues to sort out and I hope she does.

However I came to your post and your beautiful words and your experiences, which are truly amazing. It's wonderful to finallyt read them from the person that it all came from.

Thank you for that.

Train-This said...

And by the way..... a co blogger? no, this girl is a compulsive liar. Trust me on that.

1HappyAthlete said...

Will you write my race report for CDA next June?

TriGirl Kate O said...

That is just amazingly unbelievable!

My husband and I were talking about blogging, why people do it, and what the draw is. In a way, it's like a popularity contest--the more readers/comments you get for your posts, the better you feel about yourself. Perhaps those of you who are gifted writers make some bloggers uneasy with their own writing styles--thus the plagarism. It's a shame that some writers would be so insecure about their writing, and therefore about themselves, that they'd have to take someone else's voice as their own. Very sad.

PS - You didn't list any "consulting fees" in your price list. What if I would like to write my own race report, but would like some editorial help?

Go Mom Go said...

I am so sorry for your experience. It sounds absolutely SHE sounds absolutely crazy!

IM Lou 2007 was a great race, but I was so excited to write my own report, to think I could have just cut and pasted yours...from Lake Placid...hmmm?? I don't think so!


Tony said...

Daaaaaammmmmmnnnnnn! :)

I'm glad I didn't find her race report! I LOVED your RR for Lake Placid! In fact it almost kept me sane in the lead up to me doing it this year. Plus the fact that you did AZ this year as well (me too) it was great to read your RR from that blistering hot day! I'll hasten to point out that 1. my AZ RR looks NOTHING like yours, and 2. I still haven't finished my LP RR! :) Talk about someone who deserved to be 'abused' though! At what point did it become acceptable to not take responsibility for your actions or inactions? While respecting your ethics in changing the names to protect the guilty, I wish you had posted the real names -- there should be SOME consequences to blatant theft after all!

Anonymous said...

Think of it as a compliment. I mean, who really cares? It's the words and the message that matter.

Joe Biden.

Mama Simmons said...

Wow. That's an unbelievable story. Clearly there are some issues with that gal that go deep. I think people who lie a lot end up really truly believing their own lies, and that's the scary part!

Trihardist said...

Indeed. What. the. fuck.

I can't believe that this woman actually raced an Ironman. I haven't yet done an Ironman, but in my experience, people who make that journey consider it sacred. The only way you could possibly be flippant about an Ironman is if it were no big deal for you, like you could go out and swim, bike, and run that far every day with no problem. Just another workout. And that applies to exactly no one.

So maybe she took her blog down because she ran out of experiences to steal.

Question: did she have ads or sponsorships? Was there some kind of money to be made in all this? Or was she just a fucked up individual who needed to feel special?

j. said...

I believe it's the latter, Trihardist. I'm pretty sure she wasn't making any money off of the blog. Just looking to be recognized (apparently as someone she's not)

Colleen said...

Are you effing kidding me? That's crazy! Glad that her Ironman experience was as good as yours!!! :)

Jeannine said...

I've seen that in a couple software blogs that I read also, articles from ezines and other techblogs completely word for word copied. Crazy. Sounds like Julie has a serious problem.

On the other hand, I didn't find your blog until months after your race report so I never commented on it in the original post, but ... your race report is awesome. You have a gift with words. No wonder she chose your post to copy. :)

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Very crazy stuff!

I found someone in England stealing content from I emailed him about it and he denies it's stealing... He is stealing expert articles and passing them off as his own.

I can't believe this woman is stealing your experiences, that is even MORE crazy.

How disturbing.

Karen said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you. However, I am writing my dissertation on the IM experience. Perhaps I can get something from you? I need 200-400 pages by September 30th. Thanks.

Triathlonmom said...

Hubby says that is the funniest thing he has ever read. I mean you know she emailed herself and then created that "devil wears prada" stuff right out of the movie. "Beth" never existed.

You know what i like about you j? you have the best written blog out there, but you don't (or didn't) have hardly any comments. I always felt like I had found the best undiscovered blog. oh, but then i started telling all the TRIgirls about it, and it's not my little secret source of inspiration anymore. yeah, i guess it was worth it.

Ordinarylife said...

Oh my word!

I have heard of similar things before in blogland but never with a race report.

The other one I heard was somebody even went so far as to take photos from a blog, post them on their blog and claim the kids in the photo's were hers.

There are very sad scary) people out there.

Kim said...

i know who this person is - the ex of my current boyfriend - she stalked and harassed me through my blog and found my work email, sending me lewd and inappropriate comments and emails - i spoke with the other journalist she plagarized - i went to the cops - all in all, she is a, excuse my language, fucking psychopath.

YOUR post was amazingly written. great job.

j. said...

Thanks Kim!
And yes, I agree, she is a fucking psychopath. Apparently she's left a trail of hatred behind her wherever she goes. Catherine recently realized that she popped up again recently. New blog. go figure.