by Christopher Bagg March 01, 2022
McBride photo courtesy of Ben Owens Photography
"The kit is certainly outside the box of what you see on course right now—it's outrageous, but I didn't want to look like a bumblebee, so we changed the color." —Rach McBride
"This ain't your grandma's couch." —Cody Beals
Anyone who has read Jim Collins' Good to Great knows that putting the right people on the bus is often more important than keeping to your original path. PLUSH Global has unfolded over the past year, discovering what it is and what it might be. Part of that process has meant reassembling many of the team members who sat on the bus during PLUSH's previous incarnations. Today we are beyond ecstatic to announce that Rach McBride and Cody Beals, two of the most important people on our bus, have rejoined the team as part of PLUSH Global's stable of professional triathletes. We checked in with Sean Watkins, one of the founders of PLUSH, about his journey over the past year and what Rach and Cody's return means to the team.
"Adversity can either pull one down or drive one on to greater heights," Watkins says. "Heather [Jackson] and I faced a ton of adversity when the brand we’d spent ten years building crumbled around us, the result of long-simmering differences between us and our business partner. We stepped away from the team we’d built out of amateur and professional athletes and paused to consider what might come next. After a few months away from that community, we knew we had to reassemble that community, because we weren’t close to finishing what we’d started. PLUSH Global arose out of long bike rides and talks between me and HJ, and the first thing I did was contact the people who had rallied around us as Wattie Ink. fell apart. We told them what we were going to do, and most of them shrugged and said 'OK—as long as it’s something we get to do with you guys, we’re in.' We didn’t expect that, but it feels so good to be working again with the people we love, unworried by sales and money and projections and all of the minutiae that eventually killed Wattie Ink. I am stoked to be working with Rach and Cody again, two amazing people and athletes who inspire me to live my best life, because we only get one life."
For both McBride and Beals, signing on with PLUSH Global means returning home. Both of the professionals have spent several years working with the team that created PLUSH, and they jumped at the chance to continue that relationship. "It's a continuation of what we were doing before," McBride says. "It feels like we're bringing it back to its roots. The team is back together. And I just love fresh starts—I love clean slates and new beginnings. There's a lot of energy around it that comes from the amateur team and their enthusiasm, and I just love it. It's the best of the Wattie family, so for me it was a no-brainer."
Photo courtesy of Ben Owens Photography
Beals, too, suggests coming to PLUSH Global was an easy decision. "It was 100% about the people," he reports. "The contract was actually an afterthought. I followed Sean, Heather, Rach, and Killam and everyone else because those are good people whom I know well. I'm confident being around them will help everything fall into place. Earlier in my career I was all about negotiating every detail of the contract, but these days I'm realizing it's first and foremost about my relationships with people in the sport. Wattie and HJ inspire such devotion from the amateur team, and it felt like a family at the races. There are people cheering for me that I don't know, and I'm cheering for them in return—I travel alone to most races, so having an instant community was really cool and helpful."
As the saying goes, though, it's not always easy. Both Beals and McBride have had tough patches during the pandemic, as have most of us. Beals flirted with leaving the sport, and McBride went through some personal troubles and then injured themselves on the mountain bike in early February. We ask them how they deal with that adversity, and if leaving the sport ever felt like a possibility. "For me, no," Rach replies. "I get injured so much that I spend a lot of time away from the sport, missing it deeply. And I feel that—especially with Ironman—I haven't done what I want to do. So for me the hunger never really goes away. I'm focusing on lots of long gravel races this year other than World Championships [in St. George], so I won't actually get to do too much triathlon this year, which makes me a little sad."
For Beals, a lot of the burnout came from losing that joy in the sport that McBride describes. "I had a good year in 2018, winning five of the seven races I started, and that was great, but then I felt like that if I didn't win I had failed when I showed up at a race. I thought that everyone expected me to win, and that was the only metric by which I was measuring my career. When I decided not to retire, I returned to the fundamentals. I wrote out all of the influencer parts of my contracts, because they felt gross and inauthentic to me, and focused instead on deals like PLUSH Global where there are good people I care about. I got back to the process of training, eating, sleeping, and recovering properly. Not every day is fun, but it's a whole lot more fun and rewarding than it has been over the past few years."
Both of the PLUSH Global athletes have dealt with the adversity in different ways. For Beals, he's changed his mindset around racing. When we ask him about his first race, he says, cheekily "Oh, I'm taking an early vacation in Oceanside." Beals' favorite band is playing in Las Vegas and he's bringing his partner, James, along with him, something the couple hasn't done before. "That's just part of my drive to have more fun with the sport," Beals says. "I'm trying to enjoy myself both on and off the course—I realized the reason I've found triathlon difficult for the last two years is because if the race didn't go well, I didn't have anything else. This way, even if the race goes to shit I'll have had a great trip."
For McBride, they've turned to Stoicism in general and journaling in particular to move through this particular patch of personal and historical difficulty. Each day they sit with a different question or prompt, writing about what arises for them in the morning on that topic and then revisiting it again in the evening. "I'm trying to stay mindful about my emotions and my experiences and working through them productively, instead of distracting myself with anything else." We ask them if a particular prompt has stood out for them this winter, and they go to grab the journal, a Daily Stoic edition. While we chat with Beals about his winter of discontent, McBride flips though the book. "Here," they say, finding the passage. "One of the important aspects of stoicism is the concept of Memento Mori, the recognition that I will die eventually, and could die tomorrow. So I've been trying to think about every day as if it were my last, not in a hedonistic way, but as a reminder that I can only control what I can control. I can control my reactions to other people's behavior. I can control how much thought I am putting into everything that's unfolding around me."
Oh, kit design. The one thing we think we all could do, until faced with the the blinking cursor on a blank white page. Even more difficult when you've designed a kit each year for the same person for several years in a row. Finally, the kit has to succeed on the athlete, but then also appeal to spectators and amateurs alike. No wonder good kit designers surface few and far between.
On the other hand, like anything, if you've got a system you have a place to start. For Wattie, that starting place usually comes to him while on his bike, or looking at the work of other street designers, or seeing what's happening on the fashion runway. He talks to his athletes, gets some ideas or feelings from them, and then takes all of that information for a ride. The next step? Some of the inspiration "vibe" boards you see below:
Cody Beals' Vibe Board
Rach McBride's Vibe Board
After the Inspo boards, it's time to go back to the athletes, for some reactions, redirects, and feedback. Then Wattie literally heads back to a drawing board to come up with the next iteration of the design.
"It's very different from what we've done before," says McBride, whose kits have often hewed to a familiar color palate: purples, turqoises, reds. This year's green departs from McBride's previous five Super Kitties, but that's a crucial part of design: sticking to what works most of the time, and then moving away. "It's certainly going to stand out on the race course," McBride says.
McBride's 2022 Kit
"We wanted to go in simpler direction, but it has to be colorful—that's what people expect, and there also has to be an animal print on there, so we ended up with a pretty clean, bright, animal print kit. I am glad we ended up with green, though—see above about bumblebee."
For Beals, kit design marks one of his favorite periods of the year. "I've learned not to micromanage Wattie, since he's such a great designer and he works with great designers. I gave him some floral print patterns since I love flowers." At that, Beals gestures beyond the videoconference frame. "I think I've got about fifty plants in here? Or, more accurately, I stopped counting at fifty. It's a bit of a problem, maybe. Anyway, we settled on a floral print, but this ain't your grandmother's couch."
Some early drafts of Beals' kit
Then, as with McBride, the design travels back and forth between Wattie and Beals until they feel that the design settles. "I teased it to a friend the other day and she said 'It's not as loud as your previous kits, but it looks like you really mean business. It doesn't look like you're here to mess around on Instagram.'" Beals took that last piece of feedback as a particularly good omen. The last couple of years have been hard on Beals the Triathlete, a fact he's been upfront about. "When I finished Ironman Chattanooga, I basically retired but didn't tell anyone about it. I thought 'That's it—I'm done.' I tried retirement on for size, and I realized that there is still so much I want to do in this sport, and this kit is a reflection of that fact. It's a business-like kit, and I'm here to do business on the race course."
Beals' "business-like" kit
What do you think about the new kits? Drop us a line, either here or over on our Insta feed, where we'll have images of them as well. As always, thanks for reading. You are a crucial part of the PLUSH Global family as well.
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