I have been involved with sports since I was a kid. I did the typical tee-ball, soccer, basketball, hockey organized sports thing until I was 12 when I found rock climbing. Rock Climbing became my life. As a junior, I was on the USA Climbing Team, traveled the country climbing and competing, and even competed in the Youth World Championships in Europe. In 2003, I won the US National Speed Climbing Championship. But then I joined the Marines, where I loved the physical aspect of the job. In 2012, I got out of the Marines and moved to Utah specifically to climb and ski. I started climbing at a high level again, getting sponsorships and doing competitions.
As far as endurance sports, my wife convinced me to get a road bike to ride with her, but it sat for about 3 years until I started riding with the Project Hero chapter in Salt Lake City in 2016. I did a week-long “challenge-ride” down the coast of California and I was hooked. Each day of that ride was my “longest ride” and all I wanted to do was ride. When we moved to Oregon the rock climbing and skiing access became more difficult but I started to ride, a lot.
In 2019, my friend Shawn Morelli – who also introduced me to Project Echelon – told me I should try Paracycling and I went to Nationals in Knoxville. I was classified due to multiple TBIs, raced, and met my soon-to-be coach. In May 2020, I suffered a stroke that completely killed my proprioception and balance and decreased feeling on my left side. (Yeah I type with one hand). After months of Physical Therapy my doctors and coach recommended I try riding a Trike just to be able to ride. It felt great to be able to ride again. In April of 2021, I did my first races on the trike at the US Paralympic Cycling open and ended up winning the TT and the Road Race! I was then invited to go to the UCI World Championship in Portugal with the US National Team where I got 3rd in the TT and 4th in the road race. I then traveled directly from Portugal to Minneapolis for the US Paralympic Team Trials and won the trike TT. However, due to the way selection was set up, I didn’t make the Paralympic Team – I was selected to the US Team but not the Paralympic team. I then won the US National Championship in the TT and the road race in Boise. I am loving it!
Project Echelon has made it possible for me to afford the equipment needed to compete at the elite level as well as motivation to race from the pro team. Without the help of Project Echelon, I would not be able to get access to the equipment I needed from Kits to the Argon 18 that I am currently using with my trike converter. I am excited to work with Project Echelon as I continue to compete in UCI Paracycling events on the US Team. It would be amazing to say I want to get to Paris 2024 but right now I am taking it one year at a time and enjoying the journey of becoming a better athlete.
This delay really affected me, as you expend a lot of energy when you get stressed, and your adrenaline starts to rise which releases cortisol into the body. Not great for performance.
I tried to stay calm and breathe through what was going on, while praying that I be allowed to race. When my bike finally passed inspection, I got into the start gate – I now have to harness all that emotion and ride a personal best in order to make it into the medal rounds. Somehow, I was able to pull it off, as I rode the fastest pursuit I have ever ridden and it got me into the gold / silver round.
Unfortunately, the second round did not go the way I hoped, but I was up against a very strong competitor. I gave it everything I had left in the tank, but it was not enough for gold. But I did bring home the silver, and a personal best in the event.
Photo credit: Casey Gibson
After my pursuit, I headed out to the road venue to start preparing from my Time Trial, which took place on 31 August. This was my key event, and what I had been training for. We knew it would be a very difficult race for me due to how my body works or doesn’t work in the heat and humidity. I rode the race according to my coach’s plan, and my follow car kept me focused and helped me navigate through lapped traffic that I was approaching. It was a complete team effort from my coaches and staff with Team USA and my coaches at home. I rode the first two laps really well, and then half way through my last lap, my body started to shut down due to the heat. My heart rate went through the roof and would not stabilize, but I just had to keep the legs going over the last hill and hope my lead was enough. IT WAS! I won the TT and added a gold medal to my silver from the track.
My final race was the road race on 2 September. Funny how quickly the weather changed – It was torrential rain, flooded roads, hail, and wind, not to mention the fog which created horrible conditions with limited visibility. I knew it would be an extremely hard day on the bike especially because when I overheat like I did in the TT, it takes much longer than 24 hours to recover. I gave it my all, and I tried to make the break with the big hitters, but racing against C5 women as a C4 is a challenge. In the end, I was just happy to finish without incident.
Photo credit: Casey Gibson
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.
Stephen Vogel claimed one of the biggest wins of his career by soloing to the Clarendon Cup title - and not only that, but Vogel also claimed the Armed Forces Classic Omnium title after finishing 4th the day before.
The win was the culmination of a long journey for "The Doctor" who had some inspiring words after the race.
"Thanks most to my soulmate Zanna Vogel who couldn't count the number of times she's told me what I could do in this sport, and has sacrificed so much on this journey of medicine and racing. This has been so far from easy. My perspective shift on finding success in life's balance was changing, and this just blows those doors wide open. Because why not use this feeling to strive to be an even better human?"
(Many photos courtesy of SnowyMountain Photography)
Project Echelon came into the US Pro Road Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee in a way they never had before. A few riders hadn't even raced in 2021 due to a delayed race schedule, while others - such as Vogel - came in with flying form.
In the US Pro Time Trial, Vogel finished 8th and Zach Gregg took 10th in a stacked field of pros hot off months of European racing.
John Heinlein III nagivated a chaotic finale to take 4th in the US Pro Crit, and earning one of his biggest results to date.
Matt Zimmer featured in what many marked as the 'break of the day' in Sunday's road race, alongside WorldTour pros and Tour de France jersey winners. The move wasn't to be, but George "The Humble Hammer" Simpson made it into a counterattack that would stay out front for a huge portion of the race. In the end, Simpson was the team's top finisher in 23rd.
Photo: SnowyMountain Photography
Not long after in a summer packed full of racing, Zach Gregg stood atop the National Championships podium when he won the Elite National Time Trial Championship in Florida. Zach won the title by just two seconds, and earned the first National Championship of his career. It's almost time to go back to the wind tunnel to get his custom Jakroo National Champion skinsuit.
The results kept pouring in over the summer, as Project Echelon earned state titles from all around the country. Tim Savre became a double state champion by winning the Minnesota State Crit and Road Race, while Ricky Arnopol did the same in Colorado. George Simpson blitzed the Colorado State Time Trial, winning the title, and simultaneously setting a new National 40km TT record in a time of 46:08.
It probably goes without saying, but the Jakroo skinsuit and wind tunnel testing work like a charm.
For the first time in Project Echelon's history, the team headed overseas to take on the European racing scene. Europe is where you go to make it, or get your teeth kicked in. It's the stuff of cycling lore: Belgian cobbles, Oude something-Mont, wind and rain and plenty of bike paths. European racing is the opposite of easy, and Project Echelon was ready to take on the challenge.
The team's first foray came at the GP Perenchies UCI 1.2, a 160km classic through the French countryside, and of course, plenty of cobbles. Fighting jetlag and plenty of cobblestones, Project Echelon still put three riders in the front group, with Peter Olejniczak the top finished in 26th.
What better way to summarize Project Echelon's European trip than this photo of Evan Hartig (left) and Stephen Vogel (right). All the emotions mixed into one: happiness and despair, elation and exhaustion, simultaneous suffering and relief. Soaked in a mixture of sweat, rain, and manure, they're already thinking about coming back.
While the half of the Project Echelon squad was over in Europe, the rest of the riders were tearing in up at the Intelligentsia Cup, where Monk was seeking to defend his overall title from 2019. Fresh off the Alabama Cycling Classic and Boise Twilight Criterium, Monk finished in the Top 6 in every single stage of Intelligentsia, including five podiums and an incredible win on the final day at Goose Island.
When all was said and done, Monk took 2nd overall at the Intelligentsia Cup; and knowing him, he's already thinking about next year.
Ahead of the Detroit Cycling Championship in August, Eric Hill took a few minutes to share some thoughts on what makes this race event special. Check them out on Pez Cycling News
Project Echelon sent a packed crit squad to Rock City, and put Monk on the podium in second place behind Wolfgang Brandl.
A brutally hot edition of Joe Martin concluded at the end of August, with Project Echelon animating the race and putting multiple riders on the podium.
After a two-hour fight for the breakaway, George Simpson got away in the Stage 1 finale, and would finish fourth on the stage with Evan Hartig rounding out the Top 10. Ricky Arnopol earned arguably the best result of his career when he finished third on Stage 2 in a steep uphill sprint.
Photo: SnowyMountain Photography
Heading into the final day criterium in downtown Fayetteville, Project Echelon had two riders in the Top 10 on GC - but we weren't satisfied with just that.
The team rode so cohesively throughout the race, putting riders in moves, firing off counter attacks, and ultimately setting up George Simpson in the winning breakaway. Well, perhaps that's too kind to the team. George went solo with 13 laps to go, and nearly stuck it on his own. One other rider was able to join 'The Humble Hammer,' but George absolutely dusted him in the final sprint, claiming victory on the final stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race, and marking the team's first UCI win of the season.
George moved himself into 6th on GC, while Ricky finished 9th, and Matt finished 11th Overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race.
Photos: SnowyMountain Photography
Photos by Snowy Mountain Photography