The 2021 Wattie Ink. Team Application Opens Today
Ed. Note—The 2021 Wattie Ink. Team Application opens today! This day always sets the company abuzz, because as our founder has said many times, "We were a team before we were a brand." As a company made by athletes, for athletes, the day we open up applications is like the Holidays for us, as we anticipate the coming year and the new additions to our family.
It’s been a different year. Let’s just get that out of the way and admit it, but before we flock to the chorus of voices declaring 2020 the worst year ever, why not take a moment and think about how the pandemic has changed things for the better? We know we’re in the minority, here, and maybe guilty of a Pollyanna attitude, but isn’t that fortitude what has served all of us in races and tough training sessions? Flat tire? Fix it and move on. Lost your nutrition? Get to the next aid station and replenish your stores. Weather not what you expected? Adjust your plan and keep making smart choices. Great athletes bend to accommodate adversity, and that flexibility protects them from breaking.
The Wattie Ink. Team swam into existence eleven years ago, in 2009, and like any kid moving into his or her second decade of life, we’ve seen challenges and triumphs. 2020 ushered us into decade two a bit abruptly, but after the disappointments and worries of spring, as races and camps dropped from the calendar, the team responded with a maturity and resolve beyond its years, as teammates rallied to virtual events, Zwift races, socially distanced endurance challenges, gravel odysseys across whole states, and a full-throated roar of “family” and “community” in the spaces (real and virtual) where we could gather. A brief survey of teammates’ answers to “why do you love this team?” tells you everything you need to know about the Wattie Ink. community.
“Because I love it. I love the people on the team. I love how wearing the Wattie kit makes me feel. It makes me feel like I can conquer anything, and I am extremely proud of being on this team.”
“I would like to be part of the team again for my third year because I love the brand, not just the gear. You guys make some excellent apparel, all while being a positive, team oriented, supportive role model to the industry, and doing so in a sport that is (by its nature) inherently self-focused. Our team is not only supportive and helpful within itself, but to others not affiliated with Wattie. I feel like we set the bar for all other teams, providing a model as to how to carry oneself.”
“This team has been such an inspiration for me. 2019 ended rough when my aunt passed away unexpectedly in early October. She was like a second mom. I really struggled afterwards, and was hoping to make 2020 a big year doing my first 70.3, but COVID-19 happened. I enjoy seeing posts and connecting with others, and I love how the mentors continue to find different ways to get us connected.”
“I love and am proud to be a member of the Wattie Ink. family. The team is positive and inclusive regardless of one’s accomplishments in the sports, personal background, or where and how he/she trains. The bonus is that wherever I go for racing (virtual or IRL), I can find my teammates and share the experience with them. It’s a special team for me.”
You’ll notice a theme in the quotes above (and believe us, the theme is echoed in the hundreds of responses solicited from teammates), that although the gear is excellent, the real product is the family. That’s how this whole thing started, after all, back in 2009, as our founder, Sean “Wattie” Watkins often says: “we were a group of athletes before we were a brand.” That mission remains firmly in place, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re a family first, athletes second, and an apparel company third. As we open applications for our eleventh season, we want you to join us and carry this unique team into your own life, letting your community know that, even as we may be distant this year, we are never alone. Here are some of the ways we gathered in 2020, despite the pandemic, and our plans for 2021.
Zwift Team Time Trialing
No event highlights your cohesion more than the daunting TTT. Requiring communication while fending off exercise-induced nausea, any team time trial challenges the most seasoned athlete. Move this discipline into a virtual space and ask participants to communicate via Zoom, Discord, or text chat and the degree of difficulty ratchets up another step. Over the summer and early fall, nearly 50 teammates have participated in team time trials, mixing the Elite Team, Hit Squad, and Gravel Collective Project alike. We’ve seen some teams make the leap to the WTRL Premier League, and with the help of team members Paul Houle, Cesar Valera, and Adam Harita (among others), we see virtual racing as a vibrant way to compete together, far apart.
In July, members of the Hit Squad, Gravel Collective Project, and Elite Team joined Robbie Walker for a four-day, tumbleweed bestrewn odyssey across Washington state. Moving in a small group and staying safe, they surmounted wind, frigid tunnels, goathead thorns, and a 48-mile “recovery” day that took many of the riders over eight hours to complete. In a typical display of teamwork, Hit Squadder Kirby Amacker rode drove out to a parking lot in Central Washington on day two of the journey to cook the crew dinner. As this article goes to press, another group is tackling the legendary Oregon Cascade Volcanic Arc, a 400+ mile, 30,000 feet of elevation gain monster from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Mt. Tabor in Portland, Oregon.
photo collage courtesy of Laura Ann Stebbins (this was one of MANY)
Truly Social Media
Social media can be a dumpster fire, let’s admit it, with the lowest examples of human behavior shuffling out of the dark to troll and harass others. We’re proud to say that doesn’t happen on the team Facebook pages, where members post accomplishments, applaud others, offer congratulations (or condolences) for all the events of life, and organize events to keep our athletic souls and bodies occupied.
Looking back from the perspective of September, we’re grateful we managed to assemble for at least one team camp this year, the Hit Squad Experience in Tucson, Arizona. Led by Chris Bagg and Molly Balfe at Chris Bagg Coaching Group, and assisted by Erik Delargarza and Joshua Lisk, we spent five glorious days living the “Faster and Happier” mission of CBCG, a value system that Wattie Ink. shares. Campers climbed Mt. Lemmon; got the opportunity to ask professionals Heather Jackson, Sam Long, Ben Hoffman, Lindsey Corbin, Paula Findlay, and Eric Lagerstrom questions; and most importantly, spent time learning about each other. We were unable to put on the April Elite Team Camp, but look forward eagerly to a safe return to events, when we imagine bringing as many of you as possible to incredible experiences across the United States of America.
A Leader who Serves
Tu Tran returns for his third year of directing the teams, a role he somehow juggles with a full-time job at Microsoft and a young family. "The team enriches my life in that it motivates me to give the best environment where everyone can be the best versions of themselves. I’ve seen so much growth from everyone on the team over the years, and that growth isn’t limited to athletic goals, but growth as mentors and leaders. Seeing how they champion each other inspires me to do more for them."
Founders that Remain Familiar
Where would we be without HJ and Wattie? We know that the two of them would shrug off their influence, and point out the fact that the team makes the team, but we'd point out to them that any organization reflects the values of its leaders, and our founders remind us each time we see them that family comes first; it comes before racing, it comes before training. Family is the structure that makes achievement possible, and both Heather and Wattie's triumphs have run in parallel with the successes of the teams. Our wins have been their wins, and they've shared their victories as generously with us in return. We've watched both of them pivot with the surprises and challenges of this year, as races disappeared and supply chain shortages made apparel a hard place to succeed. But through it all they stayed HJ and Wattie, stars who remain firmly grounded.
"Our teams are everything to me and Wattie," HJ says. "They are our friends and family. By wanting to be part of our program they support everything we're trying to do, and the least we can do in thanks is to support them in return. Wattie Ink. makes clothing, sure, but that's simply a way to unite us during racing and training. The company isn't about clothing; it's about lifelong friendships, memories made over tough days together, and hoped-for moments we plan with each other. That's what our teams are about."
What will 2021 hold? That is, of course, impossible to predict. No one saw 2020 making such an unexpected turn, but if anything the pandemic is a reminder that we are simply passengers on Earth, not masters of it. What we can do is resolve to focus on our community, our team, our family, and see how we can work together to scratch the collective itch of finding and overcoming athletic adversity. When we signed up for our first race, we signed up for uncertainty, and along the way we found a group of friends who similarly seek out those challenges, finding who they become when the going gets tough. Whatever 2021 holds in store for us, there’s one thing we’re sure of: a family has our back. Won’t you join us?