In 2009, I enlisted into the Marine Corps at the age of 18. I was the honor graduate amongst a class of over 300 recruits. After attending infantry school, I took on the challenge of obtaining the highly coveted Reconnaissance Marine occupational specialty. Very few men ever make it, but I succeeded at 19 years old. The bulk of my time in service was spent at 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion in Camp Lejeune, NC. There I was deployed twice to Afghanistan where I saw heavy combat in the notorious Sangin Valley and Bar Nowzad regions of Helmand Province. Six months after my second deployment, I exited the Marine Corps with 4 years of service, achieving the rank of Sergeant.
Throughout my 6 years post-service, I’ve tried every form of weightlifting, and have been all across the spectrum of fit and fat. I’ve finally accepted that being a big heavy guy just isn’t healthy for me. If I can think of the time I was the most fit, it was when I was in my early 20s as a very young Reconnaissance Marine. At that time, I was running and swimming dozens of miles a week. I could do 20 muscle ups, run as many as 12 miles with 100 lbs of gear in under 2 hours, and many other feats of strength. The VA told me I’m 50% disabled and my knees account for 20% of that rating. As a 28-year-old veteran, I have days where I struggle to stand for long periods of time or use the stairs in my house.
The bike provided to me through the support of Project Echelon will enable me to train to become a better athlete in order to support and represent my foundation and community by competing in venues such as triathlons.
During the first weekend of February, Project Echelon supported veteran and reigning world and national champion, Shawn Morelli, raced to earn her spot on the US Paracycling National Track Team to compete in Apeldorne Netherlands in March at the Paracycling Track World Championships. .
Race report from Shawn: The weekend was your typical busy weekend of racing. I rode well and qualified for the team. I did not hit all the targets I wanted in my 3km Individual Pursuit. But I still raced well. I also competed in the 500m TT and all I will say is I am not a sprinter. However I laid down a respectable time. The scratch race was the highlight of the weekend. I raced hard to defend my National Title and was able to come out with the win.
I was very excited to be wearing my Project Echelon Kits and representing an organization that gives back to veterans. I received a lot of questions from individuals asking me simply “what is Project Echelon” and I enjoyed telling them about our mission and goals. It is an awesome feeling to be a veteran representing an organization that is working to empower veterans through cycling.
Training Camp. Community, cohesion, communication, goals, process... All things the team built during its week long training camp in Tucson, Arizona. We couldn't be more proud of this group of young men who have come together as a team, their support for one another, and their motivation going forward. We are especially proud of the way in which they carry our mission of educating, equipping, and empowering veterans through physical activity.
Valley of the Sun Stage Race. Team camp was followed by the first team race of the season at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race. The team showed its strength and ability to execute as a unit, earning 3rd place in the Stage 1 Time Trial and 2nd place in the Stage 2 Road Race, with impressive performances by Matt Zimmer and Tim Savre, respectively. Additionally, Matt Zimmer secured 3rd place in the overall competition, with Zach Nehr coming in 7th and Tim Savre placing 10th, results that are evident of a strong team that believes in themselves. Read more about the race HERE.
Making Connections with the VFW. This January, Eric Hill had the opportunity to share the Project Echelon mission and vision with VFW Post 6498 in Wauwatosa, WI. This is the largest and most active post in the state of Wisconsin and includes state and national officers in its membership. It was extremely powerful, empowering, and inspirational to be able to speak with and receive support from servicemen who served in wars ranging from WWII to Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In talking to these servicemen, it was clear and affirming that we are doing the right work and that they too would have largely benefited from a program and community like this upon return from their time in the service.
The Project Echelon Racing Team also connected with local Tucson veterans during their training camp. The team partnered with Sabino Cycles, a local Specialized Bikes dealer, and Presta Coffee to host a veterans chat ride. The conversation and community built was inspiring and humbling for all.
The team followed up the veterans ride event by visiting the Pima Air Force Museum and learning more about the history and technology behind these amazing machines and the men and women who manned them.
Students at Rose Glen Elementary School In Waukesha Step It Up to Support Project Echelon. There aren't many things that are more inspiring and motivating than sharing the work of Project Echelon with kids and hearing their genuine passion, interest, and words of encouragement. Not to mention students who come up and share how PTSD or suicide have impacted their family.
The students at Rose Glen Elementary in the School District of Waukesha will be participating in the Step It Up Kids Program as a means to both encourage an active and healthy lifestyle for kids and raise funds to support our efforts of engaging, educating, equipping and empowering veterans through physical activity. We are so blessed and honored to have their support!
Using Cycling As A Tool To Teach Math & STEM Concepts At Local Schools. Cycling at an elite level requires a lot more than brute strength and calculated risk taking. It requires a deep knowledge of training and physiology, as well as engineering and design principles. Riders and team directors are always analyzing, calculating and evaluating. These principles offer a great tool and platform to learn applied math and STEM concepts.
Recently, members of the team spent the day at the STEM Saratoga Middle School to talk about some basic engineering and design principles with several math classes. The team facilitated a hands on lesson discussing topics ranging from gear ratios to relationships between speed, weight, power and aerodynamics.
We hope opportunities like this inspires students to think creatively, think outside of the box, and explore the world around them with genuine curiosity.