While attending Virginia Tech, Rob Jones decided to join the Marine Corps Reserve as a combat engineer with Brave Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battilion in Roanoke.
With his work largely revolving around explosives, Jones was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and again to Afghanistan in 2010, charged with not only using explosives but discovering buried weapon caches and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
During his tour in Afghanistan in the region of Delaram/Sangin, Jones was part of an operation to push further into Taliban territory and do exactly what he was trained to do: discover hidden IEDs. Set to the task of clearing a particular area, what he was searching for almost killed him as an IED—the precise one he was looking for—detonated.
With the lower halves of his legs blown off, Jones’s injury left him with his right leg amputated above the knee and his left leg amputated between the bone surfaces rather than cutting through the bone.
After sitting at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to begin his initial recovery, he was transferred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he learned to not just walk, but also bike, with prosthetic knees. This is no small feat: Jones had to learn how to ride upright with no knees, quads, calves, ankles or feet. A pair of “biking legs” were constructed for him with mountain-bike shocks, elastic bands, metal hinges and sockets.
“During my recovery at Walter Reed, I was determined to relearn how to ride an upright bicycle again,” said the 29-year-old. “Despite many difficulties, thanks to the innovation of my prosthetist Zach, the help of Brian Bartlett from Left Side Industries, and Ray Clark from Ride to Recovery, we managed to get me up and cycling in only six months.”
Honorably discharged in December of 2011, Jones first moved to Florida to partake rowing competitions with his rowing partner, Oksana. In five months, the pair won the trunk-and-arms-double-scull trials race held by USRowing, becoming the USRowing National Team for their boat class, and also won the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade to qualify for the Paralympics.
“I was later able to participate in the Nation's Triathlon in Washington, DC in September of 2011,” Jones said. “It was during this time of rediscovery that I came up with the far-fetched idea of cycling across America in order to benefit some of the charities that had aided me during my recovery. The more I thought about it, the less reasons I could think of to not do it. I wanted an adventure. I’m not that deep, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I just wanted an adventure.”
Setting out from Maine in October of last year, Jones began documenting his journey online while collecting money for the three organizations that helped him have a new life post-service: the Semper Fi Fund, the Coalition to Salute America’s Hopes, and Ride2Recovery. The last group is one of the largest cogs in the scheme of Rob’s journey: Ride2Recovery using the power of cycling—be it indoor spinning labs or outdoor biking—to help the mental and physical rehabilitation of soldiers.
As he has been biking along, Jones has ultimately left it up to his supporters—through towns both big and small across America—which charity they would like to give to. Thus far, he has collected nearly $100K over 4,857 miles and counting daily.
Those miles should not be underestimated: Jones has faced the eastern cold front which annihilated the East Coast, winds from the Rockies—specifically along the Hardscrabble Pass—that were so intense they catapulted him off his bike.
"People standing on the side of the road,” Jones said, “All that means a lot. Sometimes I get total strangers I've never met before riding with me… My message is: find out what you are capable of, find the goal for yourself and commit to it."
Jones arrives at Hotel Maya in Long Beach next Thursday, where he will continue his trip to Camp Pendleton, his final destination.
- Semper Fi Fund: 825 College Blvd, Suite 102, PMB 609, Oceanside, CA 92057
- Ride 2 Recovery, attn: Donations, 23679 Calabasas Rd. #420, Calabasas, CA 91302
- Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, PO Box 96440, Washington, DC 20090-6440