2020: Year in Review - Project Echelon December 2020

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

Happy Holidays From Project Echelon

It is with a humble heart and inspired spirit that we reach out to you this holiday season to say THANK YOU for all that you do and have done to support the Project Echelon organization in 2020. This year, despite the many challenges we are all facing, Project Echelon was able to grow its reach, influence, and impact in so many ways. We provided purpose, hope, and inspiration to over 200 veterans in ways that changed and saved lives. We are truly carrying out our mission of educating, equipping and empowering veterans through physical activity and self discovery and we have your dedication to our mission to thank for it!

A message from Project Echelon veterans, riders and supporters alike:

The Veteran Community

Veteran Feature Story

by: Enduro Earl

Photos courtesy of: Korey Hopkins (Iinstagram: @khopshoots , Facebook: Khop Shoots)

Before I started riding, I would see people hitting crazy lines in videos and think to myself, “Hmmm, I think I could do that.” Soon enough, I found myself alone on a rental bike at a downhill bike park in October 2018, where I quickly learned that not only could I not hit those crazy lines, but I couldn't even do some of the easier things that I took for granted.

As soon as I got my own bike the following spring, I learned that my stamina was completely lacking as well. I was absolutely dying on my first climb which was only 300 feet of elevation gain over a few miles, and I had hardly done five miles of riding before I was completely dead and embarrassed. Worse, I could hardly remember the excitement of the downhill created by that climb. After that day, I knew in the depths of my spirit that I would never park at the top of a trail again. But as I got in better shape and started riding more challenging trails, I started to realize that it was having a positive impact on my mood.

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.

Here is a quick message from Enduro Earl himself:


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

Delbert Grush

Delbert Grush served in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper from 2004-2012, with some of the most historically prestigious units in the 82nd Airborne Division. He deployed in support of OEF VII. While in Afghanistan, Delbert became symptomatic of a neurological condition, which would later be diagnosed as Muscular Dystrophy. Subsequently, this led to an early medical retirement. With no Plan B, and a family in tow, Delbert struggled with his deteriorating physical health, mental health, and navigating veterans’ benefits during his transition. After many adverse experiences with treatments, he discontinued his course of care. His progressive & uncontrolled disease combined with (developmental trauma) + (moral injury) = Complex PTS, left him clinging to life & struggling with suicidal ideations; and even worse, destructing relationships with those closest to him through verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Delbert and his family divorced after many domestic situations that jeopardized their children, leading to termination of rights, adoption, and experiencing the traumatic death of their only son.

Delbert moved to Tallahassee, Fl. where he currently resides, post-service he has dedicated himself anything altruistic in nature to veteran causes. He is a lifetime member and active within many veteran organizations, having formerly served as a Chairman to the 82nd Airborne Division Association and in advisory rolls to many others. Delbert is currently a student at Liberty University.

His inspiring story realistic perspectives on personal performance are the result of personal triumph over the adverse conditions that many veterans are posed with. Delbert met his challenges as a civilian through cultivating strong relationships with locally & nationally. He works to use his personal journey, energy, and skills to leverage in awareness, fundraising efforts, and networking with a purpose of healing. The desire to give back is among his core values, a discipline that has come with self-promoted success and has effectively been displayed through unique challenges and constant advancements.

Tour FloHio

In late 2019 Delbert attended an integrated intensive retreat called “Save A Warrior” over a course of 5 days (120 hrs.) which was a traversing experience of his former mental/emotional/spiritual and physical conditions. Delbert attributes his success of completing this daunting transition of reintegration and persevering journey toward emotional sobriety to the “SAW” curriculum and continuum of care through accountability and support networks. In Delbert’s words “The only thing I had to change, was everything.” SAW has an efficacious route of getting to the thing under the thing, returning to the original crime scene and bringing men and women who have experienced trauma, to extract what they can, leave what they can’t. Where they can live effective lives free of the carry overs.

Early in 2020, Delbert decided that, after experiencing liberation from paralysis and fatigue, he wanted to challenge himself, and further engage in his works of recovery through community and connection. He announced that he wanted to cycle from Tallahassee, FL to Newark, OH, raising awareness and funding for Save A Warrior, and working his journey inward. This trip quickly garnered support through sponsorship of $2,500 through Project Echelon, Team Honor and Builders Hardware & Specialty Co. support, and media. Two other U.S. Army veterans, Nicholaus Hale and Trey Perez, joined him on the ride, committing to the full trip of 805 miles across ten states, which ultimately raised 12K for Save A Warrior, and distributed testimony and literature to Fire/EMT Departments, Police Stations, Sheriffs Offices, Trauma Centers, Correctional Facilities, National Guard Armories, Military Recruitment Offices, and generally communities. Additionally, the connection & support through social media to SAW Alumni gave purpose and engagement along the trip for others to become engaged in the ride which was dubbed Tour FloHio.

Tour FloHio in Missouri

The success of the ride has opened conversations for a second cycling trip of the trio, dubbed as “Tour FloCal” that would span 2400 miles across nine states. Going from Tallahassee, FL to Save A Warriors’ second facility in Malibu, CA, the Tour FloCal’s goal would be to raise one hundred thousand dollars for Save A Warrior, while the riders continue to pursue their individual journeys, and make contact with aforementioned demographics to fill in the seats, and to change and save lives of our most deserving and worthy veterans and first responders. Delbert is filled with joy that Project Echelon is so eager to support his second cycling trip Tour FloCal, knowing that it will impact so many more lives.

If you are interested in sponsoring the Tour FloCal, you can contact Dilbert at delbert@saveawarrior.org or 850-242-1902.

Aaron Hunnel and the Ride 2 Stop Suicide

The following story exemplifies everything that Project Echelon is about. Active duty service member, Aaron Hunnel, worked with Project Echelon this summer to complete a 24-hour bike ride while pulling an empty chariot and two American flags, as an effort to raise awareness for and remember the 22 veterans a day that commit suicide. After a successful event, Aaron is going even bigger for his next ride – he has assembled a crew to support him in a ride across America, pulling that same empty chariot from the coast of California to the coast of Virginia, with the goal of raising enough money to donate 100 bicycles from our partners at Argon 18 to veterans in need.

This is the story behind Aaron Hunnel and the Ride 2 Stop Suicide:

The Ride 2 Stop Suicide is about aligning forces with military veteran organizations, communities, friends and families so we can work together to reduce the stigma associated with suicidal ideation, and get bikes in the hands of veterans around the country.

We want to bring light to the veteran community and let them know that they are not alone, but rather there are many ways to feel a sense of purpose and connection to life.

Suicide is tragic for so many reasons – Not only does it impact our families and friends, but it also impacts our communities. Veterans are at a high risk for suicide because of the service they provide to this country.

Suicide is the last resort for someone who is hopeless and helpless. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to intervene before the hopelessness and helplessness becomes unbearable. Biking is one way to combat depression, anxiety, or even PTSD, and physical activity is one of the best interventions for someone struggling with their life, health, or wellness.

A bike is a tool which represents the momentum we must generate by pedaling and making the wheels turn. Pedaling can be hard, especially when climbing a hill, but it’s the only way to make this tool work properly, and so you can get from where you are to where you want to go. We must pedal to generate hope, cultivate strength, and move forward in life; and not just for ourselves, but also for our families and communities.

This brings us to the action Ride 2 Stop Suicide is taking to intervene in our veteran community.

On September 11, 2021, military veteran and ultra-endurance athlete Aaron Hunnel will bike 3100 miles from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD while pulling an empty trailer on his road bike. The empty trailer symbolizes those military veterans we have lost to suicide. Our movement will raise $150k that will go directly to Project Echelon and be used to purchase 100 Argon 18 road bikes which will be given away on Veterans Day 2021 to our veteran organization partners.

Spreading awareness is great, but it’s not enough. We need to make a difference in our veteran communities by intervening with practical solutions. These veterans are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, friends and coworkers.

Join our movement so together we can Ride 2 Stop Suicide.


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.

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.

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.

Project Echelon Racing: Looking Back on a Year (Almost) Without Racing

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.

Photo: The team after the Tour of Southern Highlands (Credit: SnowyMountain Photography)

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.

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 H3 Smart Trainer

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.

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.

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.

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


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Created By
Zach Nehr


Photos by Snowy Mountain Photography