Project Echelon: Equipping, Educating, and Empowering Veterans
November 02, 20234 min read
We had the chance to sit down with Eric Hill, founder and president of Project Echelon, a 501c3 veterans non-profit that engages, equips, educates, and empowers veterans and their families through physical activity and self-discovery.
How did Project Echelon get started?
“Project Echelon was founded in 2016 after a veteran friend of mine returned home from service having suffered several traumatic brain injuries and continuously struggling with PTSD. Unfortunately as a result of those things he resorted to drugs and alcohol and made multiple attempts at suicide.
Through his journey to try and overcome those things he realized that being physical was one of the few things that helped him be a better version of himself. It put him in a place where he could tackle some of the issues he was facing. He decided he wanted to do a triathlon but had zero idea of where to start. He didn't have the equipment, training background, or knowledge. With me [Eric Hill] being on the professional cycling circuit, he reached out and asked for some advice.
I got him set up with a bike, other equipment, free entry to a race and wrote a training plan for him. He completed that race and felt a euphoria that he only felt otherwise when using drugs and alcohol. He knew this was a way out for him.
A year later he completed his first Ironman and was on a show called Quest for Kona on NBC. He shared that story of how this changed his life on that episode and it resulted in more people, more veterans reaching out to us and saying ‘hey I need that same type of help’. So we decided to start Project Echelon as a result.”
What does your team look like and how do you work with veterans?
“Today we serve over 500 veterans a year. We have a UCI continental cycling team composed of 13 riders. Each rider is responsible for coaching, mentoring, and building relationships with each individual veteran member that we serve. We provide grants and scholarships to [veterans] in financial need.
We’re able to bridge the gap between where [veterans] are today and their dreams, aspirations, and where they want to go. That gap is typically a canyon and there’s no clear means to get from point A to point B. We try to provide them with that service.
We also want to provide solutions to our partners, and to our sponsors for veteran employment. We support veteran employee resource groups so that they can be successful inside and outside of the workplace and use physical activity as the conduit to that success.”
Why a professional cycling team?
“It’s the most authentic way for us to tell that story because a lot of professional athletes struggle with the same things our veterans do. Their identity is sport. A veteran's identity was the military. And when you take that away, they really struggle. We’re able to have real conversations with people and they get it.
We’re able to share that story with communities across the US. We get these really authentic relationships where we’re visiting VA hospitals, we’re going to VFW meetings, we’re hosting in-person rides and events, and it’s the best way to build meaningful relationships that are actually life-changing.”
What does 2024 look like for you?
Next year the team will continue to grow. It's prominence in the UCI European tour calendar, while also shifting terrain and having a greater commitment to gravel racing across the United States. We look forward to being the first UCI team to make a commitment to this discipline. Additionally, fans will be able to connect with us at the major stage races across North America and criterium events like Armed Forces Cycling Classic, Tour of America's Dairyland, and Bucks County Classic.
The Team Philosophy
Listening to Eric talk about the team, you can tell he knows each rider extremely well and prioritizes those relationships. When we asked him about the riders and the veteran community, he responded, “It’s gotta be a relationship first. That’s what I expect from my guys when they work with our veteran community. It’s not a transactional relationship. It needs to be personal. That’s my belief on how a team should be managed. I wanna know you and what makes you tick and how to help you find success.”
How can other people get involved?
Come to our gala and Gran Fondo weekend in Tucson, AZ from March 2 - 3. There will be events for fans and the veteran community, opportunities to engage with the team, a golf outing, black tie dinner, and of course, a race. Follow the team on Facebook and Instagram for more information.
We had the chance to sit down with Eric Hill, founder and president ofProject Echelon, a 501c3 veterans non-profit that engages, equips, educates, and empowers veterans and their families through physical activity and self-discovery.
In honor of Veterans Day, your purchases will help support Project Echelon.
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