Project Echelon isn’t your normal cycling team. For one, it’s part of a nonprofit dedicated to supporting veterans, founded by friends in the wake of personal struggles with PTSD and the rejuvenating benefits of exercise. And two, Project Echelon has been a driving force this year behind bringing Pro Road Tour events like the Tour of the Gila to Zwift. This Wednesday, come ride and chat with Project Echelon co-founder Eric Hill on Zwift, on Wednesday at 7 a.m. PT.
“The most important thing about Project Echelon is our non-profit,” Hill said. “In 2015 a veteran friend of mine reached out after his third suicide attempt. He was struggling with PTSD, and was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. He realized he needed to make some changes.”
They settled on a triathlon as a target goal for Hill’s friend Eric Beach. The idea was to have a longterm goal on the calendar that involved a routine and exercise. Hill got Beach a bike and some gear, and Beach went for it. After Beach was selected for NBC’s Quest for Kona TV show, more veterans and others learned about the story. “And that’s when we decided to start Project Echelon,” Hill said.
The non-profit brings the civilian community and the veteran community together through sport.
“Also, it’s an opportunity for our racers on the team to grow as young men and leaders in community as well as cyclists,” Hill said.
Project Echelon has grown from a $12,000 budget that helps 12 veterans to an organization that last year worked with 104 veterans and donated more than $35,000 and 2,500 volunteer hours, Hill said.
In the recent momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, Project Echelon held a Ride of Equality fundraiser two weekends ago that benefited the National Association of Black Veterans.
Virtual racing and riding
Although Project Echelon like any other team exists for in-person racing, the squad has played a pivotal role in making virtual racing a reality for three marquee events on the PRT calendar, namely the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Tour of the Gila, and the Joe Martin Stage Race.
After initially doing some impromptu races with other teams via Zwift’s Meetup function, Hill connect with his old high school friend Nathan Guerra, who runs the Zwift Community video platform that livestreams events with commentary.
“I asked for Nate’s help in pulling it together,” Hill said “He had connections with Zwift. I had connections with the teams, and with race directors. It’s been a collaborative effort.”
Although Project Echelon could have held virtual stage races by any name, Hill said using the recognized names of PRT events had a few benefits.
“The main reason to do this with race directors is simple: If we don’t have them, we don’t have our sport,” Hill said. “Race directors rely on their sponsors, and having something to share with sponsors while there is no in-real-life racing helps. It doesn’t cost me anything to put their name on our virtual races. It’s my way to say thank you.”
Join the VeloNews Ride p/b Amp Human with Eric Hill of Project Echelon. Please note the new time of 7 a.m. PT.