Excerpt: Co-Founder, Eric Beach, shares his story.
By: Eric Beach, Co-Founder of Project Echelon
Content Warning: This article contains reference to suicide. If you need support at any time, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
I entered the Army in 2002 expecting the experience to teach me who I was. But, this isn’t the function of the Army and I left in 2005 more confused and lost than when I entered. With no sense of self nor a positive peer group to help me find my center, I found drugs and alcohol. After years of self-medication to deal with my PTSD, I attempted suicide in 2008.
After my suicide attempt, I floundered but didn’t fall down as far. I sought treatment, I entered healing programs, I received a PTSD service dog, and made great strides in recovery. But still, something was missing. A void existed where consistent joy and peace should be. I wanted to enter the military again, or become a police office, or any number of frontline positions. These options weren’t possible for me and in truth, wouldn’t have solved my problem.
After looking deeper at my situation, I realized it was the physicality I missed. Perhaps finding my fitness again would be the answer. Triathlon had long been a curiosity to me. Swimming was something I’d need help with. Running, I know how that game works. But the bike, there was a lot I didn’t know about. I needed help. With goals like becoming an Ironman, it was clear I needed guidance and financial support as after losing two jobs, I was living off of my disability pay from combat related injuries.
This need led to my friendship with Eric Hill and our non-profit creation, Project Echelon. If I had these needs to reclaim my life, so did other veterans. Through our work, I found peace in opening up about my situation and allowed companies in to support me and my brothers and sisters. The healing I found on the bike helped balance my negative self-talk and objectively view the issues I faced in my recovery and lifestyle. I left the house more, I yelled less, my 2-week long bouts of depression would shorten to 1 day, and I found my smile again.
Cycling became a powerful tool in my tool bag. But, with this new-found freedom came a bit of fear. Being buzzed by drivers, attacked by dogs, and flats born from unkempt roads lead to a foggy mind. In some cases, getting out on the road wasn’t even an option, so I purchased a fluid trainer.
It was amazing! I could train in my garage whenever I wanted and skip the road! But when race day came, when I was to become an Ironman, I found myself ill equipped for my ride in the mountains. The fluid trainer didn’t provide me what I needed to progress.
Then I received one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been privileged to receive, the Saris H3 trainer. Turning it on, inputting a program, and pushing those pedals was a game changer. It felt like the road. The challenge of the gradient changes taxed my muscles and kept my mind engaged and far from boredom. There was no way I’d show up undertrained as long as I stayed consistent. The trainer meant I had no excuses. Achieving my dreams and reaching my goals was on me, just like it needed to be. This trainer closed the loop on what Project Echelon set out to do, Educate, Equip, and Empower the veteran. Saris removed a barrier for me that day. One of the biggest barriers I had in the world of cycling and triathlon. To say it was a beautiful gift feels to small an accolade. To say they sent a modality to further help me save my life feels right.
There is something beautiful about the fluidity found on the bike. No jarring, just smooth motion. The grind of hard efforts brings a burn that 22 veterans a day will never feel again. The burn we feel in our legs when we ride is the memory of those we have lost urging us to do the one thing they can no longer do. Live. Thank you, Saris, for helping me live.
After leaving the Army in 2005, with one deployment to Iraq in 2003, Eric buried himself in drugs and alcohol leading him to attempt suicide in 2008. Eric spent the next 7 years trying to heal yet always felt something was missing. Endurance sport was the answer. Eric has healed by doing battle on the bike and the Ironman course and starting Project Echelon, his non-profit that helps veterans find the same healing. A cast member on season 1 of NBC Sports series "Quest for Kona", Eric has lived more life and achieved more since 2016 than he dreamed possible in his previous 33 years and endurance sport has been the backbone in the continuation of his journey.