Part One of Two
by Guest Blogger Troy “Zooman” Cook
I think it was meeting Michelle T. for a face to face talk before an Austin Transformation.com meet up a couple of months ago that got me thinking. Like a lot of folks on the site, I’d been impressed and inspired by her transformation story. We had never really gotten a chance to talk much since we didn’t float through the same circles. After she left the site, I ran into her at a Texas area event and asked her why she’d left. She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not going to talk about it.” So I left things alone.
This time was somehow different. This time I needed some answers to help me understand what I was seeing and hearing. I had received a text from a former Body-for-LIFE runner up who is a friend of mine. I was questioning things. This friend asked me if I was “still on that site” and I replied yes, but I was having my doubts. She went on to tell me some things about Bill and how he’d treated one his T.com champs during the Denver event in October of 2009. That got me thinking and worrying about other things that were going on behind the scenes with the site.
I decided to contact the T.com champion. We talked for a while and she shared with me what Bill had done and said to her in Denver. The way he treated her after she posted an assignment and then her resulting dismissal from the site. It was all very odd and bizarre, but again, it was like other stories I was hearing about Bill. I talked to Michelle about this and more and she shared with me her experiences on the site and what went on leading up to her departure from the site.
There was no discussion about what we’d do next, but I think we both knew from that point on we needed to speak out and be a voice that needed to heard on and off the site. It was from that point I stepped back and started recollecting my journey on T.com from where it started and to ultimately where it has gone.
I found the site through my friend Jonnae Taylor. She was fighting a losing battle with leukemia. We were pen pals and she had written to tell me Bill Phillips had paid a visit to her home to grant her wish. It was from there that I looked up Transformation.com and was led to the site, more like actually drawn to it. It had a vision, a leader and a mission. It was a mission I thought I could lend a hand in. It was a vision I felt I would be doing some good work helping others and paying what I had learned through Body-for-LIFE forward.
Yet almost from the beginning odd things started to happen. Since I work shift work I could log on to the site at all times and correspond with people from different time zones and from all over the world. It was the late night things that I found odd. Things like Bill responding to a member’s question about whether heavy metal music was appropriate for her spouses’ profile or not, or correcting others for comments they had made in general, only to see Bill’s critical comments deleted by the next morning. It seemed like they were written on the spur of the moment, without thinking about how they might hurt people. And the way the comments were deleted, like he had some of his IT people following him and cleaning up after him. I moved past this and tried to never get involved, but had talked to several of the friends I had made on the site. When Bill posted hurtful and inappropriate things it was a general consensus that this was once again ”Bill being Bill.”
Several of us got together and started an accountability group. It wasn’t anything official, just 20 – 30 of us and a thread where we all posted. Within a few months, several of those people were deleted for speaking their mind about Dianne Orwig’s profile being deleted. (Read Transforming Turmoil Into Triumph here.) The guy who started the thread was eventually deleted, then allowed to return. He left after he confided in me that he was being censored. He had questioned Bill about the site and the fact that T.com was actually a model plan of a marketing venue.
I put a lot of time, energy and money into the site, helping people with workouts, food choices, encouragement and even helping out financially where I could to make a difference in other’s lives. Later on, I was a leader of an accountability group. I was asked to do this after our team leader had taken a leave from the site.
I took my responsibility seriously. Members of the group were making great changes. I kept noticing that other groups were getting more recognition. I couldn’t understand why. After a few attempts of trying to get some recognition for our group, I felt that the group would have to make it on its own. It began to feel like it was a clique or a circle of whom you knew and who you didn’t offend as far as the group leaders were concerned.
Around this time, one of the site’s senior coaches, Stoney Grimes, made a fairly aggressive pass at a friend of mine. She was uncomfortable enough with what happened that she decided to leave the site. I tried several times to get someone to talk to about the incident. I was counseled to follow my heart on the matter, and told that it would do no good to bring this up to Bill directly or the online community. So I stayed quiet. But my frustration grew.
Several people in my group made some recognition-worthy changes. They didn’t get acknowledgement for their work. It felt like these individuals were denied any recognition due to the fact they were in my group and I’d made some waves. The people that were recognized got money and a trip to the Make a Wish Denver 2009 Event. One of the people in my group bumped into Head Coach Stoney Grimes and he was totally impressed with the change she had made and made a few comments regarding her changes. After talking to a mutual friend of hers, I then told her what had happened with my friend and the reason I felt our mutual friend (being a member in my group) got no recognition. This was just another example of some of the things I had encountered.
I hung around one person in Denver almost continuously and he mentioned to me that Coach Grimes tensed up every time I got near him. I hadn’t noticed at first but after it was mentioned to me I saw what he was talking about. We also talked about how odd it was that during the meet and greet that afternoon in the area of the hotel that we would be having our seminars that Bill never made an appearance. I found out later on that afternoon, he was there, in a back area, watching from a distance. The only time I heard he would mingle with people was when it was set up more like a controlled photo shoot. I never really sought to go find out, but heard this from several people. It all seemed very odd to me that Bill would be so stand-offish during an event he created.
I guess after Denver I noticed a few more people leaving but nothing really seemed out of place. March 2010 rolled around and we all gathered in Dallas for another event. I had the pleasure after Dallas to open my home up to several members again and we spent most of the week hanging out, talking about the event and talking about future plans.
During this time I had several prominent people in my group delete their profiles. Each one of them stated that it was the 18 assignments that we were working on for each challenge we entered that led them to this decision. Some of the other reasons by various members in our group was that they didn’t feel the need to openly reveal things from their past that they had already dealt with. There was discussion that Coach Grimes would contact and discuss their most personal aspects of what they had revealed. He was telling them things that were not what had been discussed in other talks or threads. People were uncomfortable and started feeling that having that information in a public space was a bad idea. Anyone could find this information. Thing was, it seemed like it was required to have your information out there for everyone to see if they were to be counted in the challenges.
As I questioned my intention and the intentions of others, I began to wonder what had happened to certain individuals and started the process of finding out and asking questions. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to find.
Excerpt from Part 2 – to be posted Thursday, November 11
When you go out looking for the truth, there’s good odds you are going to find it. Chances are good it may not be what you expected. That doesn’t mean you don’t go looking. I learned that lesson 18 years ago when I hit rock bottom and asked the Lord for help. I had to face down some hard truths about who I’d become. It wasn’t easy, but it needed doing. You can’t run from things, you have to learn to face them.