Rob Jones was a combat engineer in the Marine Corps when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and lost the bottom of both of his legs.
That didn’t stop him from winning a bronze medal in rowing at the 2012 Paralympic Games, bicycling 181 days across the U.S., and taking on his latest mission: running 31 marathons in 31 days, all to bring attention to wounded veterans’ causes.
“I’m doing it because I want to be an example of somebody that uses a tragedy or something that would normally bring them down — instead of letting that pin them to the ground helplessly or destroy them mentally, I’m being an example of someone who uses that as a tool to make themselves better or do something that makes a difference,” Jones said.
His first race was Oct. 12 in London. His last will be Veterans Day in Washington, D.C. He won’t compete in any organized marathons, but he’s has mapped out courses in each city, encouraging friends and supporters to run with him.
‘My job was to find IEDs’
A farm boy who ended up in college at Virginia Tech, Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve in Roanoke, Virginia, during his junior year.
He served as a combat engineer attached to an infantry unit. After a deployment to Iraq in 2008, Jones was sent to Sangin, Afghanistan, in 2010.
“My job was to find IEDs, and we were doing a push into Taliban territory, and so we had laid down for a little break and we got up and the point man stepped on an IED,” Jones said in an interview during a June training session. “Luckily for him, it was what we call a low-order detonation — it malfunctioned, so just the blasting cap went off.”
But the Taliban had set another IED close to the first, designed to hit those responding to the initial blast. As he was clearing a path, Jones stepped on the second IED.
After months of recovery, Jones learned to walk on two bionic knees, and eventually to run on blades.
“I saw an opportunity for myself to be an athlete in a way that I couldn’t have before,” Jones said. “I didn’t have a very good idea of what being an amputee was like, because I knew right when I woke up that something was going to be missing.”
He started doing pullups on a triangle bar in his bed. He saw rowing was a Paralympic sport, so he found a partner and a place to train — and ended up taking bronze in 2012 in the mixed double skulls.
He then rode his bike 5,180 miles across the country to raise awareness and money for wounded vets. Now, he is in the middle of running a marathon every day for a month.
There’s always a temptation to take the easy route, Jones said, but that’s not what he is about.
“If you get into the habit of always selecting the easy way to do things, then that will compound, I think,” he said.
For example, taking the elevator instead of the stairs, Jones said, or letting the fear of failure prevent you from even trying in the first place.
“You have to seek out the hard things, and purposefully doing the hard thing to make sure that you keep growing.”
Jones will post updates on his marathon trek at facebook.com/robjonesjourney.
Andrea Scott is managing editor of Marine Corps Times. On Twitter: @_andreascott.