After a somber period of deep reflection, I realized I had one of two options. When it comes to life and momentum we can either move forward or backwards; there is no staying still – stagnation is regression. There was one thing I was sure of though, I wasn’t ready to wave the white flag of surrender. So, I made my decision. I chose to fight. I decided that regardless of the challenges, regardless of how difficult it would become to take the next step forward (both literally and figuratively), I would never give up. It’s a mantra that I recited countless times as a soldier in the U.S. Army: “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
I never expected that “fallen comrade” to be myself. The youthful, fully functioning, and physically capable part of me was lying wounded and paralyzed by fear on the battlefield. It was time for me to take hold of a new identity and find hope in something greater than myself. As I look at myself in the mirror today, it is only through God and the hope I have found through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, that I’m able to tread forward unafraid and unashamed of who I am.
My future may be clouded with much uncertainty, but I haven’t lost hope.
As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Thanks to modern medicine and a rigorous holistic health strategy, I’ve managed to bounce back relatively well from my initial precipitous MS plummet. There have been many bumps along the road, some of them feeling like pitfalls full of quicksand, but slowly and maturely, I’ve been making positive progress.
It wasn’t until a fateful meeting with a former military member who happened to be my newly designated chiropractor through the Veterans’ Affairs, that I embraced a new vision for what I thought was in my realm of possibility. After examining my awkward gait, he paused, hesitant to express his concerns. He had a solution to my condition conjured up in his mind, but he was afraid of my reaction to it. After assuring him that nothing would surprise me, he proceeded to stun me with what came out of his mouth next.
“Have you ever heard of an IRONMAN race?”
How could an IRONMAN help someone like me, someone with MS, someone who had a hard-enough time just barely walking, get “better” by swimming, biking, and running absurd distances? It didn’t make sense.
But that’s when he challenged me with the notion that I had a chance to tell a story. And not just any story – a great one – one that could inspire others to look fear and hopelessness in the face – and with resolute determination say, “I’m not giving up.”
Against all sane and rational reasoning, I’ve decided to embrace this audacious endeavor. Come hell or high water, I’m pushing my mind, body, and soul through the rigors and toils of the unrelenting and merciless discipline of IRONMAN training. Over the past six months I’ve steadily made progress to the point where I’ve been able to train to 75% of the slated distances for each leg of the IRONMAN race. My body pays dearly for those long-endurance training sessions and my recovery timeline is longer than most. Nevertheless – slowly, but surely, the impossible is becoming possible.
Even with COVID-19 threatening to delay or even cancel my upcoming race in September, I hold fast to the infinite hope I have in Jesus Christ.
When I cross that finish line, and yes, I intentionally use the word “when” – I’m not sure if I’ll be able to contain the emotional tsunami that has been building along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of so many along this journey. My wife, Nikki, my friends and family, and my MS mentor, David Lyons – have all supported me every step of the way. As the Director of Fitness for the MS Fitness Challenge, a non-profit that provides free fitness training and support to people living with MS, I’ve dedicated this IRONMAN to support this amazing organization in an effort to amplify the hope and impact fitness can have for people living with MS.
The Project Echelon community continues to grow!
In 2019, Project Echelon served 104 veterans, up from the 67 served in 2018. In 2020 we have set out to serve 150 veterans through relationship, coaching, mentorship, and access to resources.
None of this would be possible without the support and advocacy of our followers and readers like you. Please continue to share our mission and vision and direct any veteran family or friends you think might benefit from our work to www.projectechelon.org.
Project Echelon recently joined forces with Zwift Community Live to organize a virtual Pro Road Tour (PRT) calendar, beginning with the Redlands Classic on May 1st and May 3rd.
After organizing a number of meet-ups and races, Project Echelon and their indefatigable leader, Eric Hill, was determined to bring their race series to the next level. In just a few days, the virtual PRT was born. The first race of the series, which attracted nearly 100 professional and domestic elite riders from across the country, was the virtual Redlands Bicycle Classic - a Friday night criterium on the Crit City "Dolphin Downtown" course, and a Sunday morning road race on the Greater London Loop.
2019 Zwift USA National Champion Holden Comeau (Saris + The Pro’s Closet) beat Cory Williams (L39ION) and Ryan Larsen (Saris + The Pro’s Closet) in the final sprint after a full-gas hour of racing on Friday night.
On Sunday, riders tackled the Box Hill climb three times in total, and the first time alone whittled the field down from 70-plus to about 25. Eric Hill (Project Echelon) put in a dig the third and final time up the climb, and his efforts combined with others blew up the front group until there were only 11 riders left. After a quick 3km descent, the leaders hit 1km to go ready for the sprint. Matt Zimmer and Zach Gregg (Project Echelon) took the early lead, but were overcome in the final few hundred meters. Alex Fraser-Maraun (Landis-Trek) took the win in a photo finish ahead of Williams and Larsen (Saris + The Pro’s Closet) who again rounded out the podium.
The Virtual PRT continues with Tour of the Gila (May 22-24) and Joe Martin Stage Race (June, dates TBD).
The races were professionally broadcast and livestreamed on Zwift Community Live - you can watch the full replays here:
Along with post-race reports and rider interviews, Velonews published a series of Power Analysis articles, a deep dive into the world of power data and Zwift racing.
David Greif's 'Everesting' for No Kid Hungry
David Greif of Project Echelon Racing recently took on the 'Everesting' challenge on Reno, Nevada. Here are his thoughts on the epic experience:
I first heard about the 'Everesting' challenge probably six years ago. The challenge is to climb 29,029 ft (the height of Mt Everest) in a single ride. When I first heard about it, I thought it was absurd - impossible, even. But, as time wore on, the idea sounded so absurd and masochistic that at some point it mildly became intriguing. Fortunately for me, as I became more serious with my training and racing, there was never much time for me to let this idea fester.
Since the pandemic, I've had a lot of time to train without structure, which means going for Strava KOMs and adventure rides. The idea of 'Everesting' drifted back into my mind, and coincidentally my girlfriend, Maddy Ward, mentioned she wanted to do an 'Everesting' in two weeks as a fundraiser for No Kid Hungry. I was in. But I'll admit, after starting at a full-time job, my endurance and volume has suffered significantly. I went out that weekend to climb repeats on my local 7.5 mile climb averaging 5%, and planned on repeating the climb five times to simulate a third of the effort (I'd need to do 14 repeats). To my surprise, after almost five hours, I actually felt just fine, making sure to eat and drink very proactively. So, yeah, that's about all the training that went into this.
The day before the attempt, I grabbed some jugs of water, stockpiled snacks - Clif bars, Twizzlers (my staple junk food), and Redbulls - and cleaned out my extra water bottles. When I woke up at 3:45am the next morning, my girlfriend had already texted me to tell me she was up and getting ready (she lives in San Diego and picked a short steep climb in La Jolla). I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and immediately was in the car driving to the base of the climb.
I started riding by 4:15am. It was a chilly "morning" and I could still see the Milky Way as I began to climb. My legs felt okay, but I kept telling myself that I had to go slower. I'd been feeling sick with body aches for the past three days and starting this challenge was still up for debate the night before. I think it made me hyper-aware to proactively eat and drink. I ticked off lap after lap, each one taking an hour, and had before long I had finished lap #5 right, still feeling okay as I had the weekend prior. The next five laps were tougher; it was starting to heat up into the 80s, and Reno's hottest day of 2020 so far had me struggling to keep cool. My mom swung by in her car to cheer me on and I shouted to her if she could go get me some ice at a gas station. She must have seen it on my face how hot I was because when I got down to the bottom, I arrived to see her forcing pints of ice cream and a bag of ice at me. It was a nice thought but there was no way I was eating anything dairy.
The length of this challenge was really setting in. I remember being 8 laps in, over half-way, but not really excited about the accomplishment and instead thinking about the 6 hours left of riding. I briefly texted Maddy, "F*** this is hard hahaha". So at this point I was just trying to hold 220W on the climb and not overheat. Thankfully I've got some good playlists and podcasts and eventually found myself back in a rhythm. After I finished the eleventh lap, my outlook began to change and I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel...in three hours. I wasn't worried about cramps, the heat was starting to break, and my legs were still pumping it out. Eventually, as the sun was beginning to set, I had just one lap to go. I finally took an ibuprofen after forgetting I brought them and headed up for my last lap where I even put in my best time of the day.
14 repeats, 14 hours and 14 minutes of riding, 220 miles, and 29,070 ft of elevation gain. 3.5 gallons of water, a pack of Twizzlers, nine Clif bars, three fig bars, a veggie burger, two Snicker's, and some pure maple syrup courtesy of a friend. Oh and by the way, Maddy finished her 'Everesting' in a blistering time of 14:40 and doing an extra lap of her climb.
It was a long day, but I'm surprised by how well my body responded to the effort and how quickly I've recovered in the days following. It's funny to me, how goals and challenges can sound so daunting and insane before you complete them. I went into this 'Everesting' with the mindset that I was absolutely going to finish no matter what and no matter how long it would take; I wasn't giving myself the option to quit. Now that I've finished and been able to put my thoughts together, I'm curious to see what 'impossible and dumb' challenge will begin to bounce around in my head next.
David's efforts combined with those of so many others helped raise over $13,000 for No Kid Hungry.
Zach Nehr's 'vEveresting' for Project Echelon
Inspired by David's efforts and the mission of Project Echelon, rider Zach Nehr completed a 'virtual Everesting' (Everesting) on Zwift while raising money for Project Echelon. Zach saw the deep impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on so many Project Echelon and their work, family, and social lives, and he wanted to help give back to the Project Echelon community.
Over the course of his ride, Zach completed just over 8.5 repeats of the virtual Alpe du Zwift which climbs 1036m in a single ascent. Fueled by many Clif bars and powered by Amp Human, Zach completed his vEveresting in 9 hours and 40 minutes, and raised $650 dollars for Project Echelon.
Zach livestreamed the event of his YouTube channel, and you can watch him climb the final 550m of 8848m (9 hours in, by the way...) here:
Ride with Tim Rugg
Project Echelon joined Tim Rugg in his recent (indoor) race across America (RAAM). With the 2020 RAAM cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rugg set out to ride over 200 miles on Zwift every day for nearly two weeks. Hundreds of riders joined Rugg during his virtual rides, who was joined himself by a representing sponsor and special guest each day. In addition, Rugg's efforts were also a fundraiser for healthcare workers and other organizations such as World Bicycle Relief.
Eric Hill and Angel Powell joined Rugg on one of his epic days, with Eric joining for six hours and Angel two. In the end, Rugg completed his ride of over 3000 miles in 13 days.
The Zwift virtual PRT continues with the women's and men's virtual Tour of the Gila, May 22-24. Three stages of racing await: a team time trial (TTT), circuit race, and the final Queen stage finishing atop the Epic KOM. Keep an eye on our social media for the latest updates, professional race coverage, and livestreams.
Sponsor Highlight: Saris
In the past 12 months, Saris has empowered 12 Project Echelon veterans with trainers, donating a total of six Saris Hammer H3 trainers and six Fluid 2 trainers. These tools provide a consistent and accessible training platform for our veteran community which is truly essential when it comes to balancing work, family, and every day life. In addition, many of our veterans suffer from partial disability, while others struggle to gain the confidence and stamina to ride on the road. The trainer has helped to bridge the gap between those barriers and make achieving their goals more possible.
Thank you, Saris, for your continuing support of the Project Echelon community. For more information, follow the link below to learn more about Saris and their plethora of indoor training tools.
We'd also like to thank Jakroo for providing us with top-of-the-line Custom Apparel. From summer kits to leg and arm warmers, to racing gloves, winter vests, and everything in between, we are proud to sport the Jakroo colors whether that be on the trainer or spinning in the sun.
Photos by Snowy Mountain Photography