Forget for a moment that you’re about to be in bumper-to-bumper congestion on a D.C. street or stuffed like a sardine in a Metro train stuck between stations. Your commute pales in comparison with that of double-amputee Rob Jones, a Marine veteran whose journey to the nation’s capital started in Afghanistan in 2010 and culminates Saturday when he completes his 31st marathon over the past 31 days at the National Mall.
Jones was a combat engineer attached to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines—one of several Marine and Army battalions supporting then-President Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge in 2010. Combat engineers have spent many of the past 16 years building things, blowing them up or finding IEDs. On July 22, he was doing the latter when he took a step and became engulfed in an explosion.
After being unconscious for 20 seconds, Jones woke up screaming. He lost both legs above the knee. Hospitals, surgeries and rehab followed. Months and years of it.
This is the part of the story Jones wants to ensure you remember, the part where a wiry, selfless Marine refused to become a Hollywood veteran cliche—broken in body and spirit—and became more determined than ever to live.
“There are people who come back and struggle with the things they see in war. It’s natural that you’ll come back home and struggle with that. That’s an important story that should be told,” Jones said. “But that’s 7% of combat veterans who come back and struggle with post-traumatic stress. I just want both sides of the coin out there. In order to do that, I have to create my own story.”
His Own Story
Doctors fitted Jones with prosthesis and he learned how to walk with two bionic knees. Then he relearned how to ride a bike, run and started to row. He was discharged from the Marine Corps in December 2011 and immediately started training in Florida to become a Paralympian in 2012.
“That’s one of the positive things that came out of it,” he said. “I’d been interested in competing in sports at the highest level and there wasn’t much of a chance of that before the injury. I was able to use the injury as an opportunity to train and compete and do some positive stuff for veterans.”
He and his partner won the trunk and arms mixed-double sculls trial race held by U.S. Rowing, making the national team for their boat class, the later the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade to qualify for the Paralympics. They eventually earned a bronze medal in the event.
Jones continued rowing competitively through the 2013 season, where he and his partner placed fourth in the 2013 World Rowing Championships. Solo supported bike rides and triathlons followed in the ensuing years.
26.2 Miles A Day
Last year, he conjured up the marathon-a-day challenge to raise money and awareness for veterans charities, and “to dispel the myth that a wounded veteran, whether through psychological or physical injury, equals someone who’s broken who can’t contribute anymore,” Jones said.
The journey started in London on Oct. 12 and has returned from across the Atlantic to zig-zag across the United States. At every stop from Philadelphia and New York to Los Angeles and Seattle, dozens of people have come out to run alongside him or simply cheer him on.
“I’ve gotten an awesome reception—30 to 40 people in every city I’ve been in,” he said. “They come from all walks of life and they’re all sorts of people who want to help me make sure veterans know they aren’t alone and that they’re loved.”
Jones has had minimal support staff, including his wife Pam and a handful of others. Runs begin early in the mornings and end by around noon, to avoid heat and traffic. His challenge has been sponsored by LALO Tactical, and donations will fund three charities:
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors the memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who was off duty when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. Siller famously geared up and ran through the Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers, ultimately losing his life in their collapse. The foundation aids both first responders and post-9/11 veterans and their families by building adaptive smart homes. The charity also helps families of fallen first responders by paying off their mortgages.
The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes specializes in emergency financial aid for post-9/11 veterans. Disability can create a wide variety of circumstances under which a veteran can fall behind on their financial commitments. Requests for assistance are often answered within 48 hours.
The Semper Fi Fund provides funds to aid in a post-9/11 service member’s recovery. Programs include aid for families; adaptive homes, vehicles, education and mobility equipment; and therapy through sports via the Team Semper Fi athletic squad.
More Steps to Come
D.C. commuters can witness the end of his marathon challenge this weekend. Jones will run a marathon into Baltimore on Friday, when Veterans Day will be observed—as well as the 242nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps.
On Saturday, he’ll be on the National Mall, running loops around the Reflecting Pool starting at 7 a.m. and passing each of the war memorials there. According to this leg’s Facebook page, about 75 people will run alongside this Marine with an indomitable spirit.
“Whether it’s me or someone else, I want to tell a story about someone who got blown up and was able to come back and find a new path,” Jones said. “Someone who’s been able to stay and fight and keep contributing.”
Editor’s Note: I’m proud to have served with Rob during our mobilization to Iraq in 2007-08. Click here to donate by buying a “Rob Jones Journey” T-shirt or by giving directly to one of the three charities above. You can follow his journey via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And you can find me running with him this Saturday morning on the Mall.
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