At the time, I was taking an SNRI prescribed by the VA for my PTSD and depression, which often left me feeling tired and dull. So I took it upon myself to learn a little about the benefits of exercise with regards to mental health. After more riding and a few chats with my therapist. I decided that instead of trying to find the perfect magic pill, I would start to titrate off of medication and lean further into physical activity.
By the end of the summer I was off the pills and completed two local Enduro races and learned a valuable lesson: Racing your bike is awesome. And as an added benefit, the dedication needed to race and excitement of competition tapped into something that I had been missing: Finding my limits and extending them.
So now that I know all of this, what do I do now? Race my bike, of course! I joined Project Echelon in 2019, and I was overjoyed with everything they offered us vets with regards to equipment and training.
But with me growing as a rider, I wanted to do more, to push farther. So I knocked, and Project Echelon answered. With more support for the 2021 season, I'll be racing the Eastern States Cup Enduro series, all the same races that guys that will qualify and go on to race the Enduro World Series all over the world. Throughout the off season I'll be blogging and vlogging about the training process, my struggles and triumphs with PTSD and depression, bike repairs, and the like; as well as getting together with local veterans for group rides, as well as introducing as many non-riding vets to the sport using my extra bikes as possible.
As far as the racing goes, it's my goal this year to finish in the top twenty overall in my class, get a few top ten finishes, and possibly sniff around the podium. But you will all be able to join me for the ride win lose or DNF. Beyond 2021, I want to get on the podium regularly and move up a class. Eventually race the Megavlanche, a 12 mile downhill race starting on a glacier in the French Alps descending 8530ft. My loftiest goal would be to one day qualify to race in the Enduro World Series.
I'm from Maryland, where the black population is about double that of the national average, as well as the median income being greater than the national average. This creates an environment where we are more accepted and more often seen first for our personal attributes rather than the hue of our skin or the texture of our hair. I haven't had trouble finding black mountain bikers in my home state, but traveling out of the DC/MD/VA area is usually when things tend to get interesting. From the generally benign person thinking you’re lost and offering help, to the more distinct “You lost boy?” stares and comments. All while simultaneously expecting some sort of magical display of biking prowess and athletic ability.
Sometimes you have a feeling it's because you’re black. Other times, it is pretty obvious. Based on my experiences in America, there will always be someone that will try and place obstacles in the path of myself and other brothers and sisters. What I know about myself is that I will continue on the path I have set for myself regardless of those obstacles. Sometimes you have to walk a trail feature the first time, but not every time.
Project Echelon Continues to Grow in 2020
In 2020, Project Echelon served 2017 veterans, up from the 104 served in 2019, and 67 veterans in 2018. Project Echelon has also offered $31,000 to veterans in equipment, coaching and mentoring supports, outreach and education efforts, and suicide prevention trainings.
The elite athletes of the Project Echelon Racing Team have volunteered 2000+ hours in the last year as they coach and mentor the veteran athletes we serve. This includes on-boarding new members, check-in meetings and personalized workout plan development.
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.
In late February 2020, all was well in northern Georgia when Project Echelon Racing lined up at the Tour of Southern Highlands, the traditional season-opener in the southeast. A mightily-strong field lined up on Friday night for a cold and wintery crit, followed by two road races and an individual time trial over the weekend.
After three days of racing, Zach Gregg (Project Echelon Racing) came out on top of the GC thanks to a stellar individual time trial, and even more impressive rides in the winning breakaways of Stages 3 and 4. It was an incredible performance from one of the riders new to Project Echelon in 2020, and confidence-boosting effort for the team heading into the rest of the year.
Little did we know that this would be the first and only real road racing of the year for Project Echelon - but looking back, it couldn't have been a better start and end to the season.
After a few weeks of chaos and uncertainty, it was obvious that little (if any) real-life bike racing would happen in 2020. So Eric Hill - soon working with Frank Cundiff, Jon Hamblen, and more - took on the challenge himself, creating an international series of racing on Zwift, and then RGT, which featured PRT-style racing from the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Tour of the Gila, and the Joe Martin Stage Race.
The races were a smashing success, showcasing more than 200 elite and professional riders and e-Racers from around the world in both the men's and women's races, and being broadcast live with professional commentary on Zwift Community Live. Throughout the summer, Project Echelon brought hundreds - maybe even thousands - of cyclists together from around the world, sharing their love of riding bikes, even in the virtual world.
These race series also made it into Velonews, featured in the Power Analysis columns written by Project Echelon's own Zach Nehr.
Paul Hartner on the CyclingTips podcast
Earlier this year, Project Echelon's Paul Hartner came out publicly for the first time on the CyclingTips podcast, telling his unique story, and one that we so rarely hear about in cycling. Paul showed tremendous courage and leadership by telling his story, as an effort to have greater representation and acceptance of the queer community in sport, especially elite men's cycling.
You can listen to Paul here, on the CyclingTips Podcast: The Pride episode
Echelon Racing promotions Continues Virtual Pro Series on RGT
Already through its first two rounds, the Echelon Racing League on RGT is is in full swing, and will continue through March 2021. The pro racing series includes eight multi-day race events, and features 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. Echelon Racing Promotions also hosts amateur races on the same courses as the pros the weekend before each pro race.
Project Echelon's own, Zach Nehr, took 2nd Overall in the virtual Tour of the Gila hosted by Echelon Racing Promotions. The three-day stage race included Magic Roads on RGT modeled precisely after the downtown crit in Silver City, the Mogollon finish on Stage 2, and an epic finale up the stair-stepping beast of the Gila Monster. Thom Thrall (EVOQ.Bike) won all three stages and the Overall title, putting on a dominant show and cleaning up in the pro men's races. Hal Blackburn rounded out the pro men's podium in third.
Not to be outdone, Jacquie Godbe won all three stage of the women's Virtual Tour of the Gila, and just a few days ahead of representing Team USA in the first-ever Zwift World Championships. Eleanor Wiseman finished second behind Godbe, while Alana O'Mara finished third on the final podium.
The Echelon Racing League continues of December 19th with the Bucks County Classic, the first in a string of pro crits on RGT. Follow Echelon Racing Promotions on Facebook and YouTube to see the races live with professional commentary.
Virtual Group Rides: AMP Human Velonews Group Ride
During the summer of indoor training, Eric Hill and Project Echelon hosted Velonews's weekly Wednesday group ride on Zwift. 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 from the full story below, on Velonews.
In Memoriam: 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.
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."
Sponsor Highlight: Saris
We couldn't have made it through 2020 with Saris, maker of indoor trainers and indoor training equipment. Project Echelon's virtual racing series would have never been possible if not for the incredible support from Saris who helped equip our riders and veterans with smart trainers and accompanying equipment. Saris truly went above and beyond this year to equip and service thousands of customers, riders, and veterans.
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 Project Echelon 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.
Project Echelon Kits by Jakroo Custom Apparel
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.
Photos by Snowy Mountain Photography