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Project Echelon: Equipping, Educating, and Empowering Veterans

November 02, 2022 4 min read

Project Echelon: Equipping, Educating, and Empowering Veterans

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.

In honor of Veterans Day, your purchases will help support Project Echelon.

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 2023 look like for you?

“It will be our first year stepping up to the continental ranks which we are extremely excited about. With that comes a new set of standards for ourselves and what we expect as far as consistency and results.

Last year we set out with the goal… of being recognized as the top team in North America. While there’s no scoreboard…we won the American Criterium Cup, we won the sprint there, we won the U-23 classification, took second as a team, and we won 3 of the 4 major stage races in North America, we were on the podium at every event at Pro Nationals. So I think we accomplished our goal.”

What does it mean for Project Echelon to start racing internationally?

“It’s interesting because our stakeholders are American-based. What I think it does, is validates the quality of this program and the reach it has. For our veteran community to see our team race against the best in the world, in events that they only watch on tv or global cycling network builds a fandom and builds excitement where people want to say ‘that’s my team’.”

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.”

The 2023 Roster

  • Ethan Craine, NZL
  • Tyler Stites, USA
  • Hugo Scala Jr, USA
  • Zach Gregg, USA
  • Will Hardin, USA
  • Peter Olejniczak, USA
  • Ricky Arnopol, USA
  • Matt Zimmer, USA
  • Stephen Vogel, USA
  • Colby Lange, USA
  • Sam Morris, CAN
  • John Heinlein III, USA
  • Tyler Stites, USA

How can other people get involved?

  1. Come to our Gran Fondo weekend in Tuscon, AZ from March 10 - 12. There will be events for fans and the veteran community, opportunities to engage with the team, food, drinks, live music, and of course, a race. Follow the team on Facebook and Instagram for more information.
  2. Check out the virtual Echelon Racing League. Ride with the pros in their community riders or compete in the League.
  3. If you are a sponsor or veteran advocate wanting to get involved, contact Project Echelon here.
  4. Veterans - fill out the contact form to get involved and get where you want to go.
  5. Donate to Project Echelon.

    Anything else you want people to know about Project Echelon?

    This is a true community and we want anybody that supports our mission to be involved. If you’re passionate about Project Echelon’s mission, reach out we’ll find out a way for you to be involved.

    You can find out more about Project Echelon here
    Veterans interested in joining can contact Project Echelon at this form
    Follow Project Echelon on Instagram and Facebook
    Check out the Project Echelon fan store

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