The Veteran Community
Eric Beach Nominated for Invisible Heroes® Award
Eric Beach, Project Echelon co-founder alongside Eric Hill, recently receieved this year's Invisible Disabilities® Association’s Invisible Heroes® Award.
Chosen based upon "incredible leadership, passion and positive impact on the lives of veterans," Eric will be presented with the award on Saturday, October 21st at 5 PM MDT during the Invisible Disabilities® Association’s 16th Annual Awards Celebration. You can find the LIVE streaming event at https://CareInMotion.LIVE and https://idaawards.org
Eric had a few words to share after the award's announcement: "The Invisible Hero's award speaks to the reality of many mental health struggles. As my wife said on our episode of Quest For Kona, 'PTSD is often invisible to everyone OUTSIDE the home.' The families often see the struggle in ways many don't. So, the heroic actions taken by those with mental health struggles too, are often invisible to those outside the home. To all you who struggle, you are the hero, you are the one who can do something about it, and it is my hope you have a small group of people that can watch you work, and watch you rise, smiling at you in those moments because they care. Please consider donating and joining the various live streams to honor the other award winners, learn more about invisible disabilities, and catch some acceptance speeches! journey Well my friends!"
Dennis Connors Becomes World Champion
At the 2023 UCI Para-cycling World Championships, Dennis Connors won his first-ever World title in the MT2 category. The title came at the end of an impressive season where Connors medaled in five of the six races on the world cup circuit. Connors is the sole tricyclist on the USA World Championship team, and he now holds two World titles.
“It feels incredible,” said Connors. “I woke up this morning not feeling super-hot, so I dropped my expectations. Three kilometers out they dropped me, and I thought I was out of the race. I got a lucky break, got in and executed my sprint how I wanted it.”
Project Echelon Veterans Win Multiple National Championships
Dennis Connors was one of many Project Echelon riders who won National titles in 2023.
Kyle Pitman and Justin Mathers opened their accounts at the road race National Championships in August, GA. Pitman won the Men's C5 race, while Mathers took the win in the Men's C3.
Both Pitman and Mathers would go on to win National titles at the inaugural USA Gravel National Championships in Nebraska later in the year. And that wasn't all for Project Echelon, as Peter Olejniczak took home the first-ever Men's Singelspeed Gravel National Championship.
Alison Roth - My experience at the MTB National Championships
My goal this year was not to win or even compete in the Cross Country MTB National Championships so to come out of this year with a championship jersey is something I will be proud of forever. However, I started this year with a different goal - competing in the Cyclocross National Championships in the non-binary category. Mountain biking was supposed to be summer training, as part of the journey to the CX Nationals. Sometimes the journey takes you in different directions and this one was no exception. None of it would have happened without the support of Project Echelon, though.
I started in Project Echelon during the fall of 2022. The first webinar I joined had a discussion of goal setting. One of the main points I took away was to set goals you can achieve with the proper preparation. The CX Nationals were occurring near me around this time and my brother suggested that I enter. I knew that if I entered, I would not have the fitness I felt I’d need to compete. I looked at my current fitness and decided that a year out would be a good timeframe to look at for a goal. I caught the CX bug last year and was going to do a lot more racing this year and looked at CX Nationals as a possible goal. It was a year away and a reasonable travel distance so I put it on the calendar. Then I got to training.
My training began in the winter with indoor sessions on Zwift just trying to build a baseline of endurance then added strength training. I noticed my power and fitness increase over time and when the weather cleared up in the spring, I took my riding outside. I have been mountain biking since I was a teenager in the 1990s and being in the woods on a bike is one of my happy places. No matter how bad my day is or how hard the ride is, riding in the dirt made me happy. So I mixed in some mountain bike races in the spring and early summer to keep the intensity and bike handling sharp.
When I saw that the MTB National Championships were going to be near my home, I signed up on a whim. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to experience the atmosphere and pressure of racing in such a prestigious event. As much as I imagined the race, I woefully underestimated the difficulty and pace of the event. My intent was to race as hard as I could. I knew that if I had a specific place in mind and failed to meet it, I would feel discouraged so all I wanted was to feel proud of my effort. If I won, or even placed on the podium, then I would be thrilled but ultimately, I just wanted to push myself.
I entered a little over a month before the race and the first person to sign up for the non-binary category. The fact that there was a category for non-binary people like me was huge. I normally have to race in the Women 40/45+ categories in my local races which doesn’t fit with how I identify. Having the opportunity to race as myself is incredibly affirming. It reinforces the idea that cycling is for everyone.
Based on how many people signed up for last year’s CX Nationals, I was expecting at least a handful of competitors. As the weeks passed, my fitness increased. I raced in the New Jersey state MTB Championships in extremely hot and humid weather 2 weeks before the Nationals. I came in second out of 5 in the Cat 3 Women 45+ so I felt like my training was going well.
The week of the MTB Nationals was stressful and I was sweating faster than I could rehydrate. My kids were out of school and I had to arrange for camp transportation while I was at the race and eastern Pennsylvania was experiencing a major heatwave. The first day of race week was a whirlwind of registration, getting my bearings, pre-riding the course, and barely keeping ahead of my hydration. It was one of the hottest days I’ve ever spent on a bike. Coupled with a course that hardly lets up, I was as close to heat exhaustion as I’ve ever been, and I spent a summer deployed in Iraq. A lot of electrolytes and water later and I was ready to make the one-and-a-half-hour drive home.
The second day of the week was all pre-riding and course recon. It was just as hot as the day prior so I made sure to keep up with my hydration. I seemed to find a good mix to keep me going so I stuck with it for the rest of the week. While it was a better day nutritionally, I was having a worse day mentally.
Throughout the day, negative thoughts would creep up. “You’re not good enough to be here.” “You’re going to embarrass yourself.” “You don’t belong here.” During these bouts of negativity, I used the techniques we talked about in Project Echelon webinars. I would take a moment, move off the trail, and just try to give myself the same level of empathy and encouragement l would give someone else I’d see on the trail. During times when I was mentally struggling, the other racers practicing were encouraging, offering support, help with line choice, and a friendly smile.
Race day was more heat, anxiety, and hydration. I lined up in the paddock and when it was my group’s turn to go up, I was the only one called. I wasn’t expecting to be the sole competitor. All the other groups going during my heat had at least 2 people, so I thought there’d be more, but it wasn’t to be. The anxiety ramped up to eleven at this point. Now I HAD to finish the race at the very least. It’s not every day you get to race in a category that fits your identity, at least for me. New thoughts swam through my head. I now had to ensure this category remains for future competitors and the next crop of non-binary riders. I couldn’t let them down.
My strategy changed from pushing my hardest to maintaining a steady manageable pace for the duration. I made it through half of a lap uneventfully when I came upon the most technical descent in the course and my ride went sideways. I started down but missed my intended line by a few inches, put my front wheel in a hole, and flew over the handlebars into some underbrush. I took a second to compose myself, pick my bike up, and check over all the bike’s parts and my parts. Everything looked good except I was leaking fluid from a nasty scrape on my shin that’s still healing after 3 months. As I was swinging my leg over the bike to keep going, my shoe flew off into the bushes on the other side.
In my haste to look over everything, I missed the fact that I broke the closure to my shoe. A spectator graciously picked up my shoe and brought it to me. I was able to eventually snap everything back in place and keep riding but this whole escapade wasted a good 10-15 minutes. The rest of the race was uneventful, thankfully, and I was able to finish mostly intact - some damage to my legs and some to my ego. I did not perform as well as I wanted.
I knew I wasn’t going to do as well as some others but it’s still disheartening when you don’t perform as well as you thought you could. At the finish line while I was sitting in the shade (did I mention it was hot?), the winner of the women’s single-speed category came up to me to congratulate me. She is a member of the US XCM team and someone I follow and look up to so to get her enthusiastic support raised my spirits. [She raced and won wearing a tutu! LEGEND!] I got a few more congratulations from other competitors walking back to my car which buoyed me.
After years of military operations, you develop a habit of reviewing performance after you complete something, dissecting it into areas of success, improvement, and lessons learned. This instance was no different. I spent many hours reviewing everything, from my preparation to hydration to mental state to gear. The one thing I knew I wouldn’t change at all was my commitment to ensuring a future for non-binary competitors. One of my main successes was showing up and racing. I didn’t let fear of failure keep me from attempting the hardest race I’ve ever entered. The most profound adage I’ve ever heard is “You win none of the races you don’t enter.”
I found many opportunities for improvement, though. I’ve learned to look at unfulfilled goals not as failures but as opportunities with the help of Project Echelon. Focusing on the mental aspect of cycling and how that can affect performance on and off the bike has improved my outlook in all parts of my life. Looking at goals not met as an opportunity instead of a failure reframes it from being the end of a path to a continuation of progress toward the goal. While I did “win” my category, I didn’t meet my goal yet. Next year I will be defending my win but before then, it’s cyclocross season. And a lot more training.
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.
United for Veterans x Project Echelon Raise Money for TAPS
Project Echelon partnered with the United4Veterans (U4V) IAD Chapter at the Armed Forces Classic in Washington D.C. Nearly 30 United cyclists and their family members rode multiple laps of a 10km course in support of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors).
For the second year in a row, United officially sponsored Project Echelon and its mission. In total, United's U4V team raised more than $10,000 for TAPS, and was honored on stage as the top fundraising team for the third year in a row.
Celebrating a Successful Event: Take That Hill
On Saturday, October 7th, Take That Hill pedaled on in Statesville, NC. In its 4th annual edition, Take That Hill is run in support of the mission of Purple Heart Homes with the goal of ensuring every Verteran has a safe place to call home.
There were three different routes to choose from, plus a virtual Take That Hill that was free to enter. The event raised nearly $90,000 to support veterans with their accessible housing needs. You can find more information about Take That Hill here.
Upcoming Events: Project Echelon Gala Weekend
Mark your calendars because the Project Echelon Gala Weekend is coming up in early March 2024. It's safe to say that the weekend will be bigger and better than ever, and you can find more information about and below.
Project Echelon Racing Team News