Ed. Note—Back in 2009 and 2010, when Wattie Ink. founder and CEO Sean Watkins was kicking around this idea of a different kind of triathlon brand, most people don't know that he had a kindred spirit in Austin, Texas thinking the exact same thing. The result? Today we share the story of Moxie Multisport, the team with the longest affiliation with Wattie Ink., and its director, Blake Uptain.
by Chris Bagg
In July of 2010, Blake Uptain called Sean “Wattie” Watkins from the parking lot of a taco shop in Austin, Texas. “I have no idea how I’d gotten Wattie’s number," Uptain recalls. "But I had it, and I knew he was somehow connected to the Trek/K-Swiss elite triathlon team. I’d only been in triathlon a few seasons, but those pros were the athletes I wanted to look like. I told Wattie I was starting a small tri team in Austin and thought the two of us could work together. He told me to wait three months and call him back.”
As with most triathletes, Uptain’s path to the sport had been anything but linear. He’d gone on a trip to Australia with his father in 2006 as part of an MS research fundraiser. “They told us that we shouldn’t bring road bikes—the surfaces would be too gnarly, so we arrived with mountain bikes. Of course, everyone else had a road bike!” Each night, after a day of riding, he’d swim in the hotel pool and then field a bunch of inquiries, asking if he was a triathlete. “I had no idea what that was,” he tells me, but he was intrigued. He returned home to Phoenix, Arizona, bought a road bike, slapped some aerobars on it, and signed up for the Goodyear YMCA Thanksgiving Day Sprint. “Pool swim, 12-mile ride, 5k run. I thought I was gonna die,” he recalls. As with many of us, he was hooked. He found a coach and a bike shop, and started attending weekly workouts at their spin studio, something unheard of at the time for a retail location. “It was a really cool vibe,” Uptain recalls. “Then I moved to Austin in 2008 for work and I couldn’t find the same thing. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own.” He canvassed the Internet for ideas and found the Trek/K-Swiss team. Somewhere along the way he found Wattie’s number and made that call.
"His enthusiasm was off the hook," Watkins remembers. "In my mind, I was like, who's this crazy dude from Austin with these crazy ideas? But at the same time, I was this crazy dude from San Diego, who had the same type of crazy ideas on a much larger scale. I told him to call me back, that I wasn't really ready to have the conversation, but I was interested for sure—I was really buying the time I needed to get things together on my end." Wattie went to his girlfriend—a neophyte pro named Heather Jackson—and pitched her on the idea of the Wattie team and on Uptain's team, too. "She was like, 'Why would anybody buy something with a "W" on it, and why would anybody join a team that you just put up a random application on social media, and finally why would anybody do the same for this random dude in Austin's tri-team?'" Watkins says. He deployed his best sales tactics on her, got on her on board, and got ready for Uptain to call him back.
Three months later, in late 2010, Uptain went back to the same parking spot at the taco shop in Austin. “I called him from there the first time and he picked up, so I figured it was lucky, yeah?” Sure enough, Wattie picked up the phone and said “Why haven’t you called me sooner?” Wattie had set in motion the events that would bring the Wattie Ink. Elite Team into existence, and Uptain ended up mirroring that process in Austin. “Waitte said ‘Let’s do it—you run yours in Austin and I’ll do mine in San Diego and we’ll see what happens.’” Uptain says. “Neither one of us knew what we were doing—we just believed that there was something we could be doing that was more than what was out there.” Both men, frustrated with the bland offerings of triathlon culture at the time, wanted to fulfill the sport’s cool potential. “It didn’t have to be Lycra and vanilla,” Uptain says. “I couldn’t buy Chris Lieto’s kit off the rack, which was just a huge miss on their part. I wanted to add a cool factor to triathlon, and Wattie thought he could do the same in the apparel world.” And like that, from a taco shop parking lot in Austin, Texas, Moxie Multisport was born.
Just like the Wattie Ink. Elite Team, Moxie touched an undercurrent of the triathlon world that yearned to be found. "Both our team and Blake's team saw strong application numbers in the first season," Watkins says. "We were surprised but pleased." Within a few years, the membership grew to 160 members, all looking for something different than what was out there in the tri world. “It’s like a Rotary Club chapter that likes to party,” Uptain says. The team picked a few races to call home, and the members who didn’t race made a point to set up shop and support their teammates as well as other athletes on course. Soon Moxie had a reputation for lifting the spirits of all passing athletes, regardless of affiliation. “Do a Google Maps search for ‘Moxie Bridge’ in The Woodlands, Texas,” Uptain tells me during one of our phone calls, and sure enough, the team is immortalized on the ubiquitous search engine, testament to how steadfast their cheering sections are at Ironman Texas. “More teammates come to Texas to cheer than to race,” he tells me, and any cursory YouTube trawl yields a series of funny and inspiring clips of Moxie members supporting team members and non-teammates alike. “I get emails from people not on the team saying that the team lifted them during the race through their cheering, or that the sole reason they signed up for Texas was to run through the Moxie cheering tunnel,” Uptain says. “But if you’re on the team and you show up to cheer, you better be in jean shorts where I can see the pockets, or a speedo.” Unconstrained by tradition, Moxie is at its best having fun, lifting the spirits of all racers and shifting their focus to something other than their current discomfort.
That said, the team attracts serious racers. “I do want people to know that there are a lot of great racers on the team. We won the Ironman Tri-club Championship in our division two years in a row, and then took 3rd place in 2017.” One of the team’s unofficial symbols is the classic “NO” symbol (a red circle with a diagonal through its center), but with an asterisk under the red line, alluding to athletes’ penchant for offering excuses for both good and bad results on the race course (“Managed 3rd place in my age group, despite a flat,” or “On my way to a PR when I got stomach issues”). Underneath the image is the team’s saying: “Triathlon is Hard. We Like It That Way.”
"My biggest challenge is reinventing the team each season," Uptain tells me. "We don't want to repeat what we've done the year before, and that goes for every aspect of the team: kits, races, identity. Many teams simply repeat the kit design year-in-and-year-out, and I think that's something that sets Moxie and Wattie Ink. apart. We use the best apparel, and we make sure that our kit each year is super cool. I'm not stopping until it's perfect, and many people don't really get how difficult it is, how much legwork it takes, to come up with something new."
In many ways, Uptain has created something old while striving for something new. As with so many of us, his first experience in the sport-when he walked into that shop in 2006 and started training with a small squad of athletes-made an impression he's still searching for and creating to this day: a group of athletes committed to each other, hard work, and reinventing triathlon along the way.