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Project Echelon Newsletter September 2020

We educate, equip, and empower veterans and their families through physical activity and self discovery.

The Veteran Community

Veteran Feature Story

by: Angel Powell

My name is SFC Powell, Angel and I'm active duty for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, currently stationed at the 426th Regional Training Institute in Fort McCoy, WI where I’ve been for about two years. I have 14 years of active duty and 16 total years of service with most of it being Field Artillery.

The Army has been everything to me. I joined right out of high school in 2004, and four months out of AIT, I was deployed with the 120th Field Artillery where we would be conducting security force operations in Kuwait. After about 15 months overseas, we returned home and I served as a traditional National Guard Soldier for about 24 months. In 2009, I deployed again with the 120th Field Artillery to Iraq where we conducted detainee operations for about 12 months. When I returned home, I joined the Active Guard Reserve for Alpha Battery 1-120th FA.

I moved around the 120th for about eight years, conducting numerous different jobs for them such as Forward Observer, Section Chief, Gunnery SGT, Platoon SGT, and Fire Direction Control SGT. Once I moved to Fort McCoy, WI, I then transitioned into a Senior Instructor for the Academy and Operations SGT where I am to this day.

I joined Project Echelon in the last year, and it has been one of the greatest Veterans programs I have ever been a part of.

The amount of support and care I’ve been given from the group is beyond amazing. Having a group of Veterans behind me and supporting me as I challenge myself daily is too good to be true. With Project Echelon, I know that there is always someone I can turn to and reach out to if I am having any problems, and I’m not used to that. Since moving to Fort McCoy and being away from some of my friends, I feel like I have a limited amount of people to reach out to. But with Project Echelon, all I have to do is reach out to someone from the community and I have friends chomping at the bit to support me.

Even the racing crew – who I didn’t really know at first – were there to support me and my goals this year. The day I received my bike, I reached out to Zach, the bike’s previous owner, and he did whatever he could to help me get my bike up and running.

I’ve also been a big part of My Team Triumph (MTT), which is a charity organization that helps people with some sort of disability achieve endurance races they couldn’t do on their own. They pair up an able-bodied athlete, who is known as an “Angel” (go figure) with someone that is not capable of doing the event on their own, who is known as the “Captain”. The Angel then guides the Captain through the race in a specially-built racing chair/raft through 5Ks, Marathons, Ironman’s, and more.

I’ve been with MTT for five years now, and late last year they asked me to be a part of their Ironman Wisconsin Team. They asked me if I would pull a disabled Veteran though the biking course of the Ironman, and I was beyond scared and wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t have the bike, trainer, knowledge or experience to make this happen. Then a good buddy introduced me to Project Echelon and my life changed.

I was selected by the group to be awarded a top-of-the-line racing bike that one of their athletes used. They also sent me a very nice indoor trainer that I could use any time. When I agreed to do Ironman Wisconsin, it wasn’t just me that was committing – I had a full crew behind me including the Project Echelon community and racing team, and my own family and friends.

Thanks to Project Echelon, I was able to train hard for eight months in order to reach my goal. Any time I had a question about equipment, shoes, tires, hydration or training plans I had someone to reach out to. It just shows you what kind of people they are.

With months of hard training behind me, I felt ready for Ironman Wisconsin, but due to Covid-19, it was cancelled for 2020. Luckily, My Team Triumph was holding their 12-hour Road America event on a very nice race course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, so I teamed up with my girl Autumn and some other great friends from MTT and we helped her complete 12 hours of nonstop racing. We were on the course from 630pm until 7am and Autumn crushed it. I had the most amazing group of people around me, and we all gave it 100% to help Autumn complete the race. I can say for myself, if it wasn’t for Project Echelon, I would have never of been able to be a part of such an amazing event and team – they helped our team by giving us the tools I need to make it 12 hours. I cannot thank this group enough, and I’m excited to be a part of Project Echelon for years to come.

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Delbert Grush Bikes to Ohio to Raise Awareness for Veteran and First Responder Suicide

On September 2nd, Project Echelon-supported veteran Delbert Grush set off on a month's long journey - dubbed the Tour FloHio - from Tallahassee, FL to Ohio and the Save A Warrior headquarters. Speaking about the foundation, Grush said, "People deserve to know that it changes lives it saves lives and to me, it's about the journey, not the destination."

Aimee Young Wins First-Ever Bike Race

The following story exemplifies everything that Project Echelon is about. Thank you to Aimee Young for her contributions; this is the story of how she won her first-ever bike race:

My story is similar to most, in which COVID-19 drastically changed my summer plans. Right at the start of "breakup season" (in Alaska, this is when the snow begins melting, making all the roads muddy and grimy, so you can't really bike outside) I switched from my basic indoor rollers to a new Saris H3 smart trainer. Although I didn't have any races in sight, it was nice to join the Zwift community and challenge myself in a new way.

With little notice, I found out about a women's-only race series that was happening in town: Arctic Bike Club Posies. I signed up without really knowing what I was getting into, so I quickly emailed my coach Peter Olejniczak for last-minute race tips. Not only did I get his pro strategy, but he also gave me a warm-up routine to do before each stage of the three-race series: a time trial, a hill climb, and a mini-circuit race.

When I picked up my timing chip at the first event, the race director said they were really excited to “have a new team in town” – I was able to tell them all about Project Echelon and our mission. Throughout all the races I had the best support crew consisting of Project Echelon teammate Jared Sarten, as well as two of my best friends, and my kids. I didn’t really have any expectations for myself coming into the race, except to finish and do my best – but in the end, I managed to get second place in the overall classification. It was pretty exciting to be the new girl in town, from the new team in town, and to come home with a podium.

The support that I have received from Project Echelon has been phenomenal. As an Active Duty officer in the US Public Health Service, I love how our health promotion and wellness tie together with Project Echelon’s mission. I look forward to racing again next summer (hoping to grow the team of Alaska women by next year!) in which I can continue to educate and empower Veterans in Alaska.

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Project Echelon teams up with American Medical Pathway (AMP) Honors Program

Project Echelon teams up with American Medical Pathway (AMP) Honors Program, an online learning community for physicians in training, to provide virtual courses that will educate future doctors about the veteran community, the issues they face, and how to best serve them. Press release to come.

The Art of Goal Setting

Project Echelon co-founder, Eric Beach, on the importance, power, and process through which goals should be set and how they might be attained. Read more HERE.

Eric Hill's Podcast with Fireman Rob

Project Echelon co-founder, Eric Hill, recently sat down with Robert "Fireman Rob" Verhelst for an episode of the "Forged In The Fires Podcast with Fireman Rob". On this episode, they discuss Project Echelon and "what their advocacy is all about. Helping people reflect on their whys and reevaluate their paths, Eric and his team help people, especially veterans, become more self-empowered and move forward. Along with many other organizations, Eric talks about who they are collaborating with and how they go about with their activities. He also shares his experience as an athlete, specifically as a cyclist."

Fireman Rob, as he is known, is a Project Echelon-supported veteran, inspirational speaker, and IRONMAN Record Holder. Learn more about him on his website below.

Project Echelon is always looking to connect with new veterans, as well as veteran friends and family. Contact us on social media or through our website at www.projectechelon.org.

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 Racing Team News

At the end of May, Project Echelon again joined forces with Zwift Community Live to organize the Virtual Tour of the Gila, a three-day stage race on Zwift comprised of a TTT and two road races.

Over two hundred riders made up the men's and women's fields, including international pro's, indoor specialists, and full-time dads.

In the men's race, Saris+The Pro's Closet won the opening TTT, with Project Echelon rounding out the podium in third. TIBO-SVB smashed the TTT to win the opening stage of the women's race.

A reduced bunch sprint would decide the both the men's and women's winners of Stage 2, and in the end, it was Holden Comeau (Saris+The Pro's Closet) and Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), respectively, who came out on top.

Stage 3 was set to be...epic, finishing atop Watopia's Epic KOM. At the end of a brutal 70km of racing, Christopher McGlinchey (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother) while Gavin Dempster (Saris+The Pro's Closet) won the GC in the men's race. In the women's race, Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) claimed the final stages as Stephens finished second, and TIBCO-SVB swept the final GC podium.

Next on the virtual race calendar was the Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race. The race began with a short but brutal ITT on the Zwift Bologna course, modeled after the Giro stage from 2019. Mikey Mottram (Vitus Pro Cycling) won the men's stage with Jordan Cheyne (Elevate-Webiplex Pro Cycling) coming in second, and Gigante continued her great run of form by winning the women's stage and Stephens coming in second.

Stage 2 would again finish in bunch sprints - Tyler Williams (L39ION) won the men's stage, and Jacquie Godbe (Vision) squeezed by Stephens to win the women's stage by just a few hundredths of a second.

The final stage on the Richmond UCI course was one of the most explosive finales we had ever seen in virtual racing. At the end of nearly an hour and a half of real-life suffering, Zac Herrod (E-Stellas) won the lactate-filled crawl to the line, while Cheyne finished in the Top-10 to secure GC victory. In the women's race, Stephens powered away from her breakaway companion on the final lap, and rode solo to the stage victory and GC win.

Zach Nehr of Project Echelon wrote about the incredible power numbers we saw in these virtual races - you can find them at velonews.com

The races were professionally broadcast and livestreamed on Zwift Community Live - you can watch the full replays here:

Following the success of the Virtual racing series, Project Echelon is working in collaboration with National Association of Professional Race Directors on developing an official Virtual Professional Racing League this winter. Stay tuned for more news coming this fall.

Echelon Racing promotions launches Virtual ProSeries on RGT

In one of the biggest undertakings in Project Echelon's history, the Echelon Racing League is set to launch this fall and will run from November 2020 to March 2021. The pro racing series will include a total of eight multi-day race events, and feature 20 of the top men’s and women’s teams from from the North American road racing scene, e-sports, and even select international outfits.

The Echelon Racing League boasts a $10k prize list to be split equally among men’s and women’s fields, and will be feature courses based on real-life mainstays of the American PRT calendar. Redlands, Joe Martin, the Tour of the Gila, and the Tour of America's Dairyland take up half of the action-packed calendar which will work in collaboration with multiple federations including USA Cycling.

Keep an eye out for more info from the Echelon Racing League soon.

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Project Echelon Criterium

On Sunday August 9th, Project Echelon took to a real-life start line for the first time since February. The Project Echelon Criterium went ahead in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with all of the COVID-19-conscious guidelines and restrictions in place to make the event as safe as possible.

Categories were on offer for riders of all ages and abilities, and at the end of the day, the Project Echelon Elite team lined up at the head of the Pro/1/2 race. Team leader and Project Echelon co-founder Eric Hill took off from the jump, and in a matter of moments the winning breakaway was formed. That's not to say the rest of the race wasn't eventful - riders and breakaways were scattered so far around the windy and technical course, it was hard to keep track of who was on which lap.

In the end, Hill lapped the field once in a breakaway, next by himself, and nearly a third time on his own. Tim Savre and Paul Hartner of Project Echelon Racing navigated the breakaways to perfection and came out best of the rest, making it a podium sweep for the team - the perfect was to restart/wrap-up the 2020 season.

NABVets Fundraiser

In June, Project Echelon riders embarked on symbolic fundraising rides across the country, riding either 8 hours and 46 minutes or 84.6 miles. The team's Ride for Equality raised over $2000 for the National Association of Black Veterans (NABVets).

“The whole idea of Project Echelon is to bring the civilian community together with the veteran community through sport, and to use sport for self-improvement,” Hill said. “Also, it is an opportunity for the racers on our team to grow as young men and leaders in our community as well as cyclists.”

The event also led to a standing partnership between Project Echelon and NABVets organizations. You can read more from the original article on velonews.com

AMP Human Velonews Group Ride

Shortly after the Ride For Equality, Eric Hill and Project Echelon hosted Velonews's weekly Wednesday group ride on Zwift. The virtual platform has been in high demand this year, and the weekly rides connect hundreds from around the world each and every week.

Eric discussed the team's foray into virtual racing in 2020, as well as the reason for the Project Echelon organization and our connection to so many veterans across the country. You can read more about the event as velonews.com

Parker Fox Memorial ride on Zwift

On July 31st, Josh Boguslofski, one of our veteran leaders at Project Echelon, hosted a one-hour Zwift ride to honor Parker Fox and other veterans who have lost his life to the battle within. Veterans, elite riders, and family members all came together to climb up Alpe du Zwift early that morning, and in the end, over $19,000 was raised for Lifeline for Vets, Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel, and Project Echelon in memory of Parker Fox.

Parker Fox

From the organizers of the fundraiser:

"Parker Fox was a great friend and an exemplary soldier who served in Able 2-503rd, 173rd BCT (ABN) from 2014 to 2017. With his charisma, Parker engraved beautiful memories and experiences in each person that knew him. It's hard to say goodbye to such a great person. Parker Fox, we will always remember you.

Rest in peace, brother.

"Always Able" “Gone from our sight, but never from our hearts.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. Know that you are loved, and you are not alone."

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Sponsor Highlight: Saris

Never has indoor training equipment been such an important part of our lives than in the past six months. Saris has gone above and beyond to provide thousands of customers, riders, and veterans with indoor trainers and equipment.

Saris has empowered 12 Project Echelon veterans with trainers in the past year, including 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.

Saris H3 Direct Drive Smart Trainer

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 in the sun.

Photo Credit: SnowyMountain Photography
Dr. Vogel at the Tour of Southern Highlands / Paul Hartner during a pit stop at Team Camp

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Zach Nehr
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Photos by Snowy Mountain Photography