By Eric Beach
Memorial day is here again. It always sneaks up on for some reason. Every year I feel an unexplainable heaviness the week leading up to memorial day weekend. Inevitably it all clicks once I realize what time of year it is. Its the time of year where we think about those lives lost. We remember them fondly but painfully. For so many, we remember them traumatically.
Last year, around this time, I was amidst a deep spiral of depression. Writing for me has been a vital outlet in my healing. In an effort to regain a healthy mindset, I wrote a poem. I then sat in my van and recorded me reading it. I brought in the recording and added some creative elements to the audio and then, and this is crucial, I released it for the world to hear...
The poem is entitled "Gods Best". I invite you to listen to it. My voice may be hard to understand, the audio recording is of poor quality, but my heart is there. Please listen.
By Eric Beach
One of the things I get to as part of Project Echelon, is use my past experience as a filmmaker to make films in support of organizations that have helped me along the way. Here is the first teaser for the upcoming documentary I am making for This Able Veteran. This is the organization I received my service dog Maddie from. Please watch and enjoy this short teaser!
By Eric Beach
I didn't work out this morning. I could blame the rain. I could say rest was more important. I could give you a list of reasons as to why I stayed home. But the simple fact is, I made a choice.
I woke up with every intention of heading to the pool, but when i walked downstairs, I felt a strong pull to read. Lately, the intensity of my training schedule has disallowed me reading time. I accepted that fact, but as time has gone on, I realize must find a way for my rhythm to include time to read. Its one of the vital pieces to this healing puzzle.
Understand, healing for anybody, is a complex thing. A broken bone mends as long as we rest it. A broken heart, an abused soul, a trauma surviving brain requires so much more. For me, that means therapy with my psychologist once a month (unless I need to increase the frequency), reading books like "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" "Iron John" "The Alchemist" "Grendel" and others. It means training for triathlon. It means running towards relationships though I want to run from them. It means being my authentic self as vulnerably as I possibly can. It means sobriety, zero alcohol. It means working with my wife on our marriage while building Project Echelon and serving organizations that have helped me, and it means attending healing intensive experiences like This Able Veteran and Save a Warrior.
Thats a part of my journey. Each piece progresses me towards my goal and my core purpose. I read to understand and challenge myself. I train to see what I'm made of and burn off adrenaline. I also train because its meditative for me as well as a it provides me the physicality I miss from the Army. I seek relationships otherwise I'm 3 months from isolating myself and family. They deserve so much more.
Heres what I've come to understand. We as veterans can easily seek the brotherhood/sisterhood. We can drink, fight, talk trash, lift weights, ride motorcycles, objectify the opposite sex, avoid real depth and vulnerability, and much more. But thats stunted living. Thats living in 1/4 of a shadow. Stepping into the light is brutally painful and is a long process. Its the reason so many stay where they are. Its why I did for so long.
We tend to build a persona to become social, but our true self remains isolated, numbed by our patterns of "comfortable". In reality, if we are honest, we aren't comfortable at all.
I chose to forgo the workout today. In the past, I'd define it as a failure. But, healing comes in many forms. I didn't fail. I listened to my soul and finally answered its murmurings.
Its when we slow down and listen to whats bubbling beneath the surface of consciousness that we begin to hear the long silenced voices, crying out desperately to be heard. Give them voice, adjust your plans so they can be heard. Its the journey. Do this and I'll happily welcome you into the arena, where the work begins. Its tough in here, but I'll let you in on a secret, you're not alone!
By Eric Hill
A few days ago, I had the best day on the bike that I have had in a long time. I had a 4 hour ride with some high intensity intervals. It was cold (38*), raining and 20mph winds, but I knew the workout was an important one for my preparation for some big races ahead, so I needed to get it in. 20 minutes into the ride, I was ready to turn around and go home, but I forced myself to keep moving forward. 45 minutes in, I get side swiped by a car in a round-a-bout, but I managed to stay upright and come away unscathed. At an hour in, the intervals begin and I am feeling good, so I push my limits. Another hour goes by and my body starts screaming to ease up, but I know that this is the point where the real gains are made… push through it. Another 30 minutes and I realized I was so cold and wet that I forgot to eat and drink for my entire interval session. 10 minutes later, my body starts to shut down… no more glycogen in the muscles to keep on pushing the pedals… and I have 15 more miles to ride into a block headwind to get home.
I was totally empty. Every pedal stroke hurt, and I loved it. I tell my athletes and teammates that these are the moments that can change you and how you approach adversity. I call it “Embracing the Suck.”
You have a split second to make the decision… embrace it or resent it. Whatever your initial reaction is to that experience, it will stick. So, choose carefully, because it is hard to overcome it once you have made that choice.
What is your tendency? Do you normally take the easy way out or do you own the moment and make something of it?
Next time you hit rock bottom, whether it is at work, in a workout, or in a relationship, I challenge you to embrace the suck. Own the moment and identify where you went wrong, what you can do better and how you can learn from the experience. Those moments are the moments that make us, us. Don’t deny them.
Additional thought… From a young age, we were all told that success is the result of hard work. At first, we resent it. Then, we try and find shortcuts around it. Eventually, it catches up with us and we can’t deny it. You have that moment where you put your “best effort” into preparing for something and it gets thrown back in your face and you realized you failed, miserably. It is in that moment you have a choice, make an excuse and continue on as nothing ever happened or embrace “the suck” and learn from it, grow from the experience, and use your failure as a means to success.
Leave a comment... share a story where you had to embrace adversity in a difficult time and the experience changed your perspective and outlook on success.
It Takes A Team: Our Elite Cycling Team Recounts Their Efforts At A Joe Martin Stage Race & The Importance Of A "Team"
By Stephen Wagstaff
Joe Martin has been a race I have been wanting to do for a few years now. I never have been able to do it for one reason or another though. So getting to go this year was very exciting and having the trip so well supported by the team took a ton of pressure off. Still, knowing how hard the stages would be and having the responsibility of protecting Zach made for some stressful weeks of training prior. Coming into the race I grabbed a win in a local crit and my cat 1 upgrade got approved. That was a huge confidence builder, and I felt ready to take on anything.
Aside from the racing, I was also beyond excited to see Fayetteville, AR. Cycling is a great sport, but the places you get to visit through racing is what makes it great for me. The team had us setup in a great van and perfect house for the week. Having a full kitchen and good roads to take morning rides takes so much stress out of the travel.
Stage one was a simple uphill individual time trial. Although it wasn’t very important for me to do well it would set the GC (general classification) standings, if I could grab a good GC spot I could become a more valuable card to play while protecting Zach. So it was simple I rode as hard as I could for 10 minutes. I averaged 373w and got a time of 10:45, good enough for 34th and only 30sec down in GC. I would have liked to do better, but I was happy.
My role was always to do my work on stage 2. It was 110 miles, and there was no shortage of climbs. Historically an early break has gone and been caught on the final climb by another small group and the win was taken from that. So my job was simple roll with the early move and keep the pressure off our team so that when the last move goes Zach is ready. Simple. After a brisk 2 mile neutral section we were off. Literally. A Lupus NYC rider attacked, and I went. We got a quick gap and in a matter of 15 minutes we had over a minute off the field. We both figured others would come across on the first small climb at mile 14. We were told of a few that tried but no one ever got more than a minute on the field and that would still leave them at 2 minutes off of us. Not worth waiting. We both knew that our job was just to stay out as long as possible. Our gap of 3 minutes held for about 30 miles, but with the climb through the feed zone coming at mile 42 our gap was getting reeled in. It was down to 2:15 at the base of the climb. Half way up the climb my companion could no longer hang and went back. I carried on and my gap was a little over a minute over the top of the climb. I thought a few might come across, but slowly I was getting brought back. It came down to 20 seconds as we went through a series of rollers, and I was certain I was getting caught, but I opened it back out to 45 seconds. Finally at about 55 miles in I was told someone was coming across to me. I took the chance to eat, but he was coming fast and went he caught I latched on. I would pull if I felt like I could, but he wasn’t going to make it up the climb and I was spent so I saw no reason to really help. I was just there to keep others chasing and at about 65 miles we finally got caught. It was great to be back. I was almost out of water and couldn’t force anymore food down. I was in bad shape, but it was easy to just cruise in the peloton. Everyone was there and feeling good so my job was done. The final climb was at mile 82 and by that time I was starting to feel good again. I figured I could set a good pace but as we rolled into the climb my chain fell off to the inside and slipped under the “chain catcher” (that little thing is no longer on my bike). I was stuck waiting for the neutral truck to attempt to fix it. All they managed was to somehow get my chain in a knot and then tell me to wait for the sag car (this would mean I would miss the time cut and not race the next days). So I finally got it fixed and started chasing. I figure I lost about 5 minutes or so. I thought that maybe if I chased hard on the climb I could get back into the caravan. That was a dream. I never saw that caravan again, and after passing dropped riders left and right I just got into my pace and went to finish the stage. I just kept thinking I can’t lose more than 45 minutes. At the end of the day I had lost 25 minutes, but I was racing the next day. I made for a long day and those last 20 miles were the worst I had felt in a long time. I felt terrible for the rest of the night. Zach unfortunately went down in the last 2km but was given the same time as the field so he slipped to 5 in the GC but with 2 days to go that was no problem.
Stage 3 was another long day, but at 86 miles it almost seemed short compared to the previous stage. It was 24 mile loops with a good climb in the middle. After a short morning spin my legs felt bad, but I told the team I would do what I could. We figured that the move would likely roll on the second or third time up the climb and Zach was ready. So it was just about keeping him protected the first few laps, and then he would take over from there. I said I would do anything I could so after a 4 mile neutral section (2 more miles!) I was on the front ready to cover anything. It wasn’t until about 10 miles in before anyone starting attacking. I made sure to cover anything I thought was dangerous, and if I couldn’t match the acceleration I would pull the pack close enough that someone would try to go across, and then they would bring us all. The climb took me by surprise, and I was feeling the previous day, but I covered anything dangerous. One guy countered a move across the top and slipped away from me, but he was no threat. Everyone looked at each other to pull, but no one was going to care about a solo move that early. Eventually one other rider bridged across but still no real threat. I offered to work with other teams to keep the gap steady at a minute, but they wanted to wait. So I just slipped back a few wheels and relaxed. I was not feeling good and really couldn’t match most acceleration. I just rolled to the back and told the team I was spent. I would help in the end if I could. I spent the rest of the day just rolling along at the back, my legs were not coming around, and it was hard to watch the rest of the team cover moves and suffer, but I would rather have them suffer than not be able to perform when they expect me to. Ultimately it came down to a bunch sprint and everyone had stayed fairly fresh so everyone was bunched and moving around in the last 5 km was impossible. Zach held his own and lost no time.
On the bright side we got to eat in downtown Fayetteville. It was so busy and so many great places. It really had college town feel, a really lively city. I wish more of the local shops had been open, but the next day’s crit would be right there so I scouted out some places to visit. This was the first time I had traveled with most of the guys, and it really was great how everyone was willing to compromise. Sadly the ice cream food truck did get vetoed after a glance at the waiting line. I bet that was some good ice cream …
The last day had a simple plan, Zach would race and we would help when we could. It was a steep uphill section and then a series of tight turns to bring you back. We would start with about 100 riders, we all knew that not many would finish. My legs actually felt much better than the previous day, but the tight turns and fat downhill section did not inspire my confidence. I sat mid-pack for a while and slowly people dropped until I was the back. I really couldn’t do much. It was probably the most useless I’ve felt all week. I felt like I had the legs to pull or set a fast pace up the hill, but I had no reason to do so. Even if I moved near the front I got timid on the descent and lost my places. It was discouraging, but I know it’s a weakness of mine and one that I continue to work on. At the end of the day Zach lost one spot and slipped to 6th. It was disappointing to slip off the podium, and I regret that I couldn’t have help more during the crit. We got down for a while after the crit that we had missed the podium, but we can’t discredit the fact that for most of us it was the first time we had done this race (including Zach), and we still got 6th!
It was a great experience. One of the best I’ve had, and it only prepares me for bigger stage races even more! I know we could have done some things differently, but the racing was great and the time spent with the team was so much fun. If we didn’t have such amazing sponsors I wouldn’t have the opportunities to do these races, and now I only want to come back even stronger. Next year I would like to be ready to ride the UCI pro/1 race. Not just to be in the pack but to really ride aggressively. There are always levels above your own no matter where you are at within cycling, but it takes a ton of support to even get the opportunity to see them. I got to see the level about cat 1 and now I just want to make sure I’m ready to race the UCI race when I get the opportunity.
By Eric Beach
This morning I'm following some advice. I'm sitting silent. Feeling the emotions. I'm assigning no value to them. No labels of good or bad, just feeling where they rest in my body.
My eyes are tired. There is a slight burning sensation. There is a slight tightness in my chest that comes and goes. It feels likes anxiousness or excitement. I can't tell which. I feel impatience in my legs. There is a feeling of uncertainty sitting in my stomach. A touch of sadness/hopelessness is present in my brain. A feeling of desperation is in my eyes.
I have assigned no value to these feelings. Simply acknowledged their presence. It's a strange feeling just letting your emotions be. It's strange to not question their existence but to instead feel where they are. In doing so, I found I was able to let my body FEEL the emotion! This was a breakthrough! For all my healing, for all my progress, I've not felt emotion like this. I thought I had, but now I see just how much I intellectualized my emotion. I've called them out... I'm angry, which means I have an unmet expectation... I'm afraid, which means my body is preparing itself to run away from the danger or fight it... But thats just part of emotional intellegence.
It's important to understand the origins of emotion, but emotions are meant to be felt. I underestimated how our body experiences emotion. This morning I felt emotions in a way I've never done and I am so much better for it. Today is a good day.
We never stop learning. We never stop growing. The fallacy is that we do. Wisdom can only come through continued life experience and introspection. Stop learning, stop growing, and their will come a day where the world will deal its final blow. I for one, unashamedly admit I don't know it all and I never will. But, what I promise and hope for you is we never stop moving forward and we never stop learning. We stop being so certain about uncertain things and can be open to the idea that maybe we are wrong. When we are open, we can think critically. When we think critically we can grow. Lets grow.
By Eric Beach
I'm moving my pen. I've been staring at blank pages, watching a blinking cursor on my face book status, staring into a camera silent praying for my voice to speak. But nothing comes out. My fingers won't type, my pen isn't inspired to move. So now I'm making it move. These are uncharted waters. But I'm desperate.
My heart is heavy. I'm lost in mental paralysis. As I'm writing, my pen just ran out of ink... Of course it did... I'll finish this stream of consciousness in notes on my phone. Where there's a will there's a way.
This is my first day home after a 3 week experience unlike any I've ever taken part in. I was fortunate to support a class of veterans during the 3 week service dog/trauma resiliency program through ThisABLE Veteran.
This program is where I received my service dog Maddie in 2014 and took my first steps that have led me to this moment.
During the last 3 weeks, There were times I didn't think it was possible to feel more alive. I laughed, I cried, I healed, I helped, I challenged, I filmed a documentary, I yelled, I explored who I was, and held the space with wounded warriors. It was an honor. But still, sadness comes.
I wonder. I wonder if a day will come where these lows level out. I wonder if a day will come when my family can get off this roller coaster, not that they'd ask to. I've grown weary of looking into their eyes and seeing the pain I've caused. It's like looking into a reflection of my soul trapped in their eyes. A burden they never asked for but nonetheless is now there's to carry. And they carry it faithfully.
My mind is consumed with so many thoughts, if I could slow it down and focus on one, it'd be a good start.
Religion, elections, my purpose, the project, blogs, videos, parenting, marriage, PTSD, suicide rates and the debated statistic, videos condemning the obsession with the number 22, the perception of veterans by veterans... The oversimplification of everything and the poisonous, toxic infection that is certainty about the uncertain. Is it possible you're wrong? Lord knows I've been wrong.
Maybe I'll make a list of questions, or maybe you, the reader, can ask me questions and I can answer them from the perspective of THIS veteran. Maybe I just need some direction so I can unlock my heart and pour it out. I can't be silent anymore. I just need help to find focus.
Silence is the killer of souls and the protector of shame.
I have things to say, but at the moment am frozen. Help me. What do you want to know? I won't claim to speak for all vets, but I can speak for myself. The dialogue starts now. Please join in.
By Eric Hill
Turn on the news for 30 seconds and you will be overwhelmed by all of the things that are wrong in this world; the lying, deceit, hatred, violence. All of that negativity can be overwhelming and can easily create a very dark lens through which we view the world. Honestly, as a father, I often fear the things my children will have to see and hear as they grow up. Thankfully, there is a brighter side to it all.
Project Echelon has given me the opportunity to meet and share a passion for veterans with some of the most generous, compassionate, and selfless community leaders, business owners, and average “everyday” folks. As I work to build our echelon of support, I continue to find a silver lining. There are so many positive things happening around us and amazing people behind them, it is truly inspiring. We just have to be willing to open our hearts and minds and recognize them and not let that thick fog of negativity set in.
I am proud to be a part of a cause that supports our veterans and I am humbled by the great amount of support that Project Echelon continues to receive, and you should be too! Each and every one of you who reads this, shares our work, and raises awareness for our cause helps to create the silver lining. Thank you!
My challenge to you: For every negative thought you have, comment you make or action you take today, try and find two positive things happening around you… Take pride, gratitude and peace in those things.
A special thank you to the following organizations and the people behind them for generously donating to the Project Echelon cause: America’s Best Remodeling, Trace A Matic, PAINCAVE, Veloce Indoor Speedway, Rudy Project North America, Badger Orthotics, Mercury Wheels, Borah Teamwear, TLX Technologies, The Turpin Family