- By Eric Hill -
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, suffering in a different vain. I have shifted gears. My frame of mind and purpose has changed. Last week I was putting myself through a workout I consider to be the gauntlet and it often gets the best of me. Per usual, about 2 hours in to the ride and 45min into the 75min interval session, I found myself in a familiar place. My legs were screaming, breathing was heavy, and thoughts of easing up on the pedals continued to cross my mind. I have a .700 winning percentage (for you baseball fans out there) when I hit this point. Normally, I start trying to motivate myself with negative talk, demanding that I be better, cursing myself to push harder and not give in... I wanted more of myself, but I wanted it for my own benefit, my own glory.
Last week, I found myself in a different position. I was in the proverbial PAINCAVE and I was starting to get those thoughts in my head, but this time, completely unexpectedly, the thoughts and the motivation came from a different place. I found myself motivated by the stories Eric B. has shared with me and by the words of encouragement from the people I have shared Project Echelon with. I found myself tuning out my own physical pain and reminding myself that it was nothing compared to the real pain that so many of our veterans and their families suffer or have suffered. I found myself wanting to dig deeper so that I could get better, but not only for the benefit of my team or individual success, but so that I could shine a positive light on the work of Project Echelon and the veteran's it supports through my efforts.
Most surprisingly, I finished that workout with the best numbers I have ever posted. I dug deeper than I have in a long time and I wanted more.
I simply shifted gears. I ride to represent something greater than myself or my team. That is the Echelon... and there is some great power in that!
- By Eric Beach -
As I train for my half IRONMAN distance triathlon, Saturdays are my long distance days. Every week, the plan I'm following, includes one. They are called, endurance days, and for good reason. The last two days of training have been brutal.
On friday, I did a 30 mile bike workout. Its the furthest I've ever ridden and the ride wouldn't have been particularly difficult had it not been for the wind. The wind was so rough, on downhill sections, I was nearly putting in sprint like efforts to even reach 15mph! Very frustrating! I think we can all remember a time where the effort we put in didn't match the output and I think we can all remember how that felt!
The next day, I left for my endurance day workout. First, a 1200 meter swim. This distance was my longest ever attempted and it went wonderfully! Things are clicking and I'm growing much more comfortable in the water! Point of fact, if you're a swimmer, 1200 meters isn't very far, but for me, its quite a distance! I left the pool exited and transitioned into my running gear. I was looking forward to the run, in part because when I arrived home, I knew I was going to launch our members area on our website and open up our first equipment grant!
I stepped outside and was blasted by wind far worse than the wind from the previous day. I took a deep breath and said, "This is going to suck!" At first it did. I was running into and across near constant 20mph wind. Occasionally it blew less and occasionally it blew harder. At times it blew me sideways and at times it blew my feet together and I almost went down!
I was angry about 3 miles in. That anger turned into determination as I began to personify the wind and yell back at it. "You can't beat me! You won't stop me! I said I wouldn't stop running until I was home, and I meant it! So rage on wind! You may beat me down, but I won't stay there!"
The old me would have quit, rolled over and died. The old me would have tucked his tail between his legs and whimpered home... But the new me... He sees the world and its challenges differently.
I thanked the wind and asked it not to quit. I recognized it was going to leave me stronger than I was at sunrise. Discomfort is a sign of growth and I was growing.
I finished the 10.7 mile run. That means I swam farther and ran farther than I have ever done in my life and I did them back to back! That my friends is something I celebrated! Its an even sweeter victory because I fought through adverse conditions to achieve that goal!
So often in life, we are on the cusp of doing something great. Things fall into place. You feel as though every part of life is confirming you're doing what you were meant to do. But there always comes a time when that changes. Things seem to simply fall apart. You want to quit.
In the book, "The Alchemist" we read a fictional story full of mystical ideas. One such idea is this idea that we all have a core purpose and the universe rewards us when we are on the trail to finding it, something like beginners luck. But, right before you are about to realize your full potential, adversity wails on you. Its as if the universe is testing you before granting you your dream. Its almost as if to say, how bad do you want this? Are you willing to push through the head wind? Are you willing to adapt when the course changes?
These past two days have been part of that metaphoric challenge for me.
Project Echelon awaits its first member. We haven't raised a million dollars. We don't have training camps. There are no great stories of radical transformation and healing as a result of our Project... At least, not yet... In reality, we do have ONE story of healing through the mission of Project Echelon. Its my story... Its my experience on this journey that I've been sharing and that journey is what started the Project and is the reason we won't stop when the winds are blowing! Its why we'll adapt when doubt creeps in. My experience tells me this process works.
At one point during my run, I ran next to a 6 foot ridge line. While next to it, the wind nearly stopped completely. I was alone, running in the wind and the ridge became my Echelon. How many of us are out there lost in the wind, looking for that ridge? Looking for that Echelon? Thats why we fight. Thats why I share all of this because one day, I'll look over my shoulder and I'll see a soldier running behind me. He won't say a word, but his eyes will say I've found my Echelon. In that moment, he or she will find their breath and Project Echelon will show the world its purpose.