Racing to be Vulnerable - Eric Hill / Founder, Project Echelon Racing Team
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
Getting to know Eric & Project Echelon
Eric Hill started racing in IU Health Momentum Indy in 2014. His team, Project Echelon – which is leading the American Criterium Cup in both Overall Cup and Sprint Cup – works to raise awareness for Project Echelon, a veterans nonprofit that educates, equips, and empowers veterans through physical activity and self discovery.
Project Echelon unites veterans through cycling and other high endurance activities all over the world. They are seeing a massive need to reach the younger demographic of veterans who need a community of support and an outlet for physical activity. There are no brick-and-mortar sites for them, Project Echelon has created a mix of organic interactions and a structured network of communication. They use social media, small meet-ups, bi-weekly zoom meetings, support groups, and more so that anyone who wants to participate can.
Eric's been cycling for most of his life, but it wasn't until he had a friend in need that he started dedicating his cycling career to a cause-turned-passion. Eric had a veteran friend who was struggling with PTSD and tried to take his own life. Through cycling, exercise, and a grounded support network, Eric's friend was able to work through what he needed to feel empowered to live his life.
Why IU Health Momentum? Why Indianapolis?
IU Health Momentum Indy is an essential event to Project Echelon’s cycling team’s calendar. Eric sees this event as an opportunity to promote the sport to Midwesterners. While there are thriving communities of cyclists and races on the US coasts, the Midwest cycling scene is a bit smaller. IU Health Momentum Indy provides the perfect opportunity to gain attention.
“Indianapolis has been a welcoming and exciting event to be a part of and has grown every year we’ve been there.” - Eric Hill
Eric and his team love getting to ride through Indy because you get a feel for the community biking through it. It's not Chicago or LA, it's a city that feels like a small town and has a thriving culture. Cycling, unlike other sports, doesn't have a big stadium - it’s what makes cycling so unique for Eric. The community becomes their stadium. He experiences the community for what it is, competing on the streets among people, neighborhoods, and businesses.
How did you get into cycling and become a founder of Project Echelon?
Eric has always enjoyed cycling, he has found riding for 3+ hours on his bike at a time creates a headspace that cultivates reflection and personal growth. Additionally, he has always been passionate about helping others and using his network to empower friends and family. He was looking for a way to use his passion for cycling to help people but was struggling with how to bring them together. While considering this, a veteran friend who was struggling with his mental health reached out to him. He wanted to get back into high endurance sports but was struggling with getting started and overcoming some barriers to entry. Eric and his friend saw the perfect opportunity to fill a gap for veterans who wanted vigorous physical exercise but also an avenue to build a community and network for support. This is how Project Echelon came to be.
What has cycling meant to you over the years?
Cycling, to Eric, is a way to bring value to his life on multiple fronts. It is a great physical exercise but beyond that, it’s an emotional one as well. Something about suffering together brings people closer. The shared burden and goal of putting your body through a strenuous workout takes down the typical barriers people put between themselves and others. This has enabled Eric to have deep, open and honest conversations and connections with friends and almost strangers. Eric has found with veterans that once they cycle together they're more willing to open up about their struggles, hopes and dreams. Cycling has become a means of building others up, which is what makes Eric so passionate about the sport.
“You’re a little more willing to be vulnerable with one other and through that vulnerability you can build empathy and understanding and really grow to appreciate each other for who they are despite some of their differences.” - Eric Hill
What is your advice to someone who wants to get into cycling, but is hesitant?
For a new cyclist who wants to get into the sport but is a little unsure about how much it'll take, Eric suggests, “Do it without setting expectations for yourself, the only expectation you should have is to have fun and to learn.”
Even as an elite athlete, we still have bad days and when you're just starting out you're going to have bad days, you're not going to perfect. Trying new things means it's going to be difficult, but it doesn't have to be impossible. When you start out cycling or doing any high endurance activity, focus on the small achievements, the growth you see, and the community you build from doing it with others.
What are your favorite parts of event day?
Eric's favorite part of race day is being able to be a part of the community. It all starts when he comes into town. He and his team stay with a host family instead of a hotel which means they get immersed in the actual community they’re riding in. Eric was very excited that IU Health Momentum provides this option as host families make the experience so much better and are able to tell them where all the hidden gems are in the city. He is still friends with all of the host families he has stayed with previously for races.
On race day Eric and his team ride past the Indiana War Memorial, which is particularly special because of how involved they are with veterans. Often veterans and their families by the memorial are not aware this race is going or that there is a team there championing a veteran cause. It is a nontraditional way to inform people about what Project Echelon is doing and bring more people on board to be a part of it. This is one piece of IU Health Momentum Indy’s route that really makes the day for Project Echelon’s team.
Come out for race day where the community becomes the stadium for this awesome race!