I came to America for education at college, but deep down in my heart, my dream was to always come here to pursue cycling at the top level – I wanted to know just how good I could be at this. I arrived alone and not knowing what to expect – it was a risk I had chosen to take, leaving behind friends and family to pursue my dreams and goals.
My first season was a disaster though. I found myself inexperienced and way out of my depth, getting dropped from almost all the races I started. I was riding for the LAPT Wilde Subaru Elite team, which later became the Project Echelon team that I still ride for. I can honestly say, that if it wasn't for my teammates, I would not be where I am today. The team was absolutely great to me, with more experienced riders taking me under their wing. They motivated me to keep trying, they trained with me and they gave me advice that ultimately led to my growth and development into the rider I am today. I still have work to do, but with the strength of the 2018 roster, I know I am going to be pushed and challenged to keep bettering my riding.
I spent my first year in America at a small school in Pennsylvania without collegiate racing – I had no idea what collegiate racing even was when I first arrived - before I made the transfer to Lindenwood University to compete in collegiate racing as well as riding for Project Echelon. Racing at a school level taught me the importance of teamwork and trust for each other, both on and off the bicycle, and the added racing to my 2017 calendar helped mould me into a stronger rider.
This winter was my first experience of indoor, winter training. I was used to being able to ride outside all year, and the sudden shock to my system was tough to deal with. I turned to teammates yet again, seeking advice and tips on how to go about staying motivated and build fitness indoors. I won't lie, I have been going slightly insane, but the weather has turned for the better in St. Louis, at least for now.
I often think about what lies in my future and where I want to be a few years from today. Will I be in the same place? Will I embark on another risky move for new experiences? I enjoy moving a lot, seeking out new challenges and experiences to help develop myself, both as a rider and a person. I enjoy the unknown, just packing up and starting somewhere new. For 2018 I am excited to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to race my bike at the top level of American cycling and travel to some really awesome locations – one of my favourite things about cycling is the opportunity to travel and see the world that it gives us. I would love to eventually make the jump to Europe and try my hand at racing over there, once again taking a risk and leaving behind what I know and love.
The only thing certain for me is that without the risks I took 3 years ago, I would not be where I am today, I would not be the rider I am today and I would not have met the people in my life that have helped me along the way. Taking risks can be daunting and scary, but with inner motivation, the correct people surrounding you and a beacon or goal to work towards, the rewards are tenfold.
Afterward: Wesley's story is one that Project Echelon shares with many of the veterans we support. We ask them to step into a world of unknowns and take a risk and to invest in themselves and their well being through physical activity. We work with veterans to set goals, develop training plans, overcome adversity, and use physical activity as a tool for self reflection and self discovery as a means to achieve greater goals outside of athletics. In this way, we are all connected to one another and share similar experiences... which is why we all play an important role in the Echelon and serving one another and giving back to our community. Our combined experiences, knowledge, expertise and passion empowers us to overcome the insurmountable and make positive change the lives of those around us, especially our veterans.
- By Eric Hill -
Husband, father, middle school administrator, Project Echelon non-profit Vice President, and elite cyclist... these are just some of the roles I have the privilege of playing in my life. Often times, my friends, family and colleagues ask me how I manage it all. Most of the time, my simple answer is "great question!" However, if I really sit back and reflect, it comes down to the fact that I have found my "sweet spot" and great balance through which my different roles support and enhance one another.
For those of you that aren't into the nitty gritty of training jargon, "sweet spot" is the type of effort used in training that makes you uncomfortable, but is sustainable for longer periods of time. Sweet spot training is also some of the best type of training to build power. This is the type of balance that I have learned to appreciate and function in. I am passionate about what I do and I love that I am consistently pushed to find new limits physically and emotionally, innovate a process, serve in a new type of leadership role, grow alongside my family, and a host of other things. I have found that, as long as I stay grounded in my beliefs, have support from those closest to me, and believe in myself and the goals that lie ahead, there isn't much that can stop me.
Going into 2018, my major goals for Project Echelon are to empower athletes and community members to serve as better advocates for the veteran community, while also working to bring on at least 20 new veterans that we can support through physical activity and self in their journey towards regrouping, recovering and re-engaging. I believe I can do this by continuing to grow our communication with followers... which is why I am challenging our team to blog at least 2x per month and post on social media at least 1x per day as a means to share our knowledge and passion. Additionally, the team seeks to expand its network and reach through performance. As such, it is my goal to perform at a level that gets our team into the Pro National Road Race Championships in 2018 and earn a spot on the overall podium in a Pro Road Tour event for the Project Echelon Team.
This will undoubtedly take dedication, sacrifice, and balance... but I am a firm believer that the sky is not the limit, as long as you can imagine what lies beyond it.
As you enter the new year, reflect on 2017 and what you accomplished. What did that look like? What did that sound like? What did that feel like? Now, looking forward... what is it that you left unfinished? What new heights can you reach?
Maybe give this a try... set a goal using the SMART goal method:
- By Eric Hill -
As the old saying goes, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” I would say that for a large majority of cyclists, this is a motto that we follow in our day to day routines. We are purposeful in our eating and sleeping patterns, analytical in our workout routines, and critical of our fashion. Cyclists are the definition of a “Type A” personality. But where do you stand when it comes to the “little things” that you have control over and can have a huge impact on your performance?
22,837 revolutions. That is the number of pedal strokes I took in last week’s 4 hour ride. Each pedal stroke drove me forward, consuming a portion of the limited amount of my body’s energy to fire my muscles, converting chemical energy into mechanical energy. In cycling, efficiency is key. That is why we spend thousands of dollars on equipment, to conserve that extra little bit of energy for the right moment to attack and seize the moment.
After having worked in a bike shop for 8 years, I can confidently say that one of the most overlooked elements and details of setting yourself up for success, getting the most out of your body, and enjoying an injury free season is getting a bike fit. The bike fit is a complex, scientific process that requires a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology. For many shops and bicycle consumers, the procedure is grossly simplified to the “stand over the top tube” method, getting in the saddle and finding a saddle height that leaves a slight bend in the knee, and arbitrarily maneuvering any number of components of the bike to get a flat back and slight bend to the arms. This is fine for your ride around campus or quick trip to the local grocer for a gallon of milk, but if you are even slightly serious about training, whether it be for personal health, participating in a local Gran Fondo, or racing at an elite level, your bike fit can have a great impact on what you are able to get out of yourself.
The bike fit is a complex and scientific process, requiring a deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology, bike geometry, and aerodynamics. There is no “one size fits all” fitting procedure. Everyone has a distinct anatomy, each individual has a unique medical history or level of flexibility, every bike has a different geometry, and every rider has a specific set of goals. All of these elements must be taken into consideration during the fit process. Adding another level of complexity is understanding the way our muscles fire and interact with one another in a way that we are able to most efficiently tap into our energy sources to draw the maximum amount of power.
At Badger Orthotics, a proud and long time sponsor of Project Echelon, owner John Huenink has been working on perfecting the craft of bike fitting for over 25 years. I have known and worked with John as a cyclist since I was 15 years old. He was actually my first employer and cycling mentor, helping me buy my first bike and giving me some gear to get me started, showing he is also invested in the development of the sport. John is a master bike fitter and has been trained by several different fitting academies. He understands the complexity of the bike fitting process and has taken it to new levels of understanding and application, applying his learning and knowledge from each of the fit academies to meet your individual needs.
One of John’s greatest passions for the past several years has been looking at the foot and how it interacts within the shoe. Cycling shoes have evolved a great deal over time, but they have historically been designed with the physiology of the foot in the context of bipedal movement (walking) in mind. John is challenging that practice in order to create a customized orthotic design specific to cycling and carbon footbed cycling shoes that capture the foot in what we call “Relaxed Rigid Lever”. By capturing the foot in its natural lever arm an increased amount of force can be applied to the pedals.
Thirteen years ago, when I first started working with John, he was custom cutting, shaving and gluing cork pads underneath the shoe’s insole. It was a start of something great. He has, and continues to work on, perfecting his craft and developing new iterations of this idea. Each time, the product has become more customizable, comfortable, and breathable. More importantly, the advancement of his work continues to have direct correlations with my improved performance, power numbers, and comfort level on the bike. For most fitters, the knees are their visible and tangible points of reference to understand the pedal stroke. Using the system John has created, in collaboration with the innovative engineering partners he has shared his work with, they are starting to understand how the foot articulates within the shoe, how the foot directs the leg, and ultimately how to more efficiently transfer power from the human engine to the bike.
22,837 revolutions. That is a lot of pedal strokes… I take the time to eat, drink, and sleep right. Heck, I even take the time to line up my bib shorts with my tan line each ride. If you are like me, “anything worth doing is worth doing right,” so you might want to consider paying a visit to John. Take some time to get properly fit with “you” as a rider, your goals, your physiology, your personal history in mind… You never know, that engine of yours might be more capable than you thought once you give it a tune up!
I have been what some might consider an elite athlete for the last 10 years, having run for one of the country's best Division III cross country and track programs in college and now riding for an Elite Domestic Cycling Team that receives invites to international events. Both of these sports, however, are extremely humbling. These sports are not football, baseball, or basketball where you have to beat a single opponent to win a game. In these sports, you first have to beat yourself and get out of your own head and then you have to beat the 100's of other athletes in the field in order to get the satisfaction of "The Big Win."
The nature of these sports has always been intriguing to me, work as a team, function as a unit, but don't let yourself beat yourself in the process. For most, including myself until recently, experiencing this over and over again causes you to have a self centric approach to the sport. Focus on ME, how strong can I get, how far can I push MYSELF for my own benefit, which in turn benefits the team.
Recently though, I have been pedaling and suffering in a different vain. I am riding for something that is greater than me, bigger than the sport of cycling. I am riding to shine a positive light on our veteran population; A population of men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my freedom so that I and those around me can enjoy the simple things in life like sport.
In 2017, I am proud to be a part of the Project Echelon Racing Team. An elite group of riders seeking to give back to some of the most extraordinary people in a simple, yet profound way. Our mission is to share the mission and the stories of Project Echelon with our followers, community members, and fellow cyclists so that we can help veterans regroup, recover and re-engage through physical activity and self discovery.
Together, we form an echelon... we support one another... and we will make change.
To learn more about Project Echelon, please go to www.projectechelon22.org. Please share our work with your friends, families, and colleagues and consider donation to our cause.
- Eric Hill -
Are written by our elite team riders who seek to use their talents to shed a positive light on our veterans & share the mission and vision of the Project Echelon non-profit organization.