Marine veteran and Paralympian Rob Jones turned adversity into success

When Rob Jones enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2006, he was a sophomore. He felt like he was at a point in his life where he needed structure and discipline, and that was something he couldn't get in a classroom setting.

"I just struggled with the direction I wanted to go in college," he admitted. "I felt like parts of my life were missing. I was lonely, I wasn't doing well in class, and I felt like something was missing."

A friend of his got in touch at the same time. That prompted him to research what it took to serve. He found the Marine Corps website, which contained images that enticed him even more.

“There were guys crawling through the mud, firing artillery, firing rifles and marching around in blue uniforms. That made me even more curious to go to the library and read a book about it.”

The Brotherhood of Heroes book struck a chord. Rob Jones followed his friend to enlist in the Corps. He later became a combat engineer whose primary role was to detect improvised explosive devices (IED) as well as explosive breakthroughs.

Navy veteran Rob Jones poses with his naval unit in uniformCourtesy of Rob Jones

On July 22, 2010, Jones was working and found an IED. However, it detonated and exploded on him, causing extreme lower body injuries. Both of Jones' legs had to be amputated above the knee. For most, turning away from this type of trauma would be nearly impossible. However, Jones' mind went elsewhere. He was more concerned about his mother's reaction than his own.

"I just had this thought that my mother would be really upset that I was wounded," he says. "I asked my squad leader to see if he could find me a funny hat at the hospital so I can put the hat on and make my mom laugh when I get to Walter Reed," he said. "They couldn't find one, but by the time I got there, she had somehow gotten one."

Jones spent the remainder of his military career at Walter Reed Hospital, where he recuperated and prepared for life after the military. He retired in December 2011 with awards including a Purple Heart, the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal. The physical toll of his injuries was self-evident, but the mental aspect of his recovery was crucial. He found inspiration to continue outside of himself.

Marines veteran Rob Jones exercises after having his legs amputated by an IEDCourtesy of Rob Jones

"I think it was realizing that there were people who were counting on me to be okay, both mentally and physically," he explained. Though his active duty career was over, Jones was determined not only to stay active with his body, but to be even more active than most.

"Since I retired, my body has been my tool to live a meaningful life," he said. "I continued my service to my comrades by inventing a story that would keep them in the fight."

For Jones, that meant doing more than just cycling in a race or doing a long-distance run. He had to bring these fitness tasks to the highest possible level. One of these endeavors was rowing. Less than a year after leaving Walter Reed, Jones qualified for the 2012 Paralympic Games where his team finished with a bronze medal. In 2014 he switched to cycling. Despite having prosthetic legs, he used a regular bicycle and completed an assisted cross-country ride totaling nearly 5,200 miles.

“I started in October 2013 and graduated in April 2014. I went from Bar Harbor, MN to Camp Pendleton, California," he said. Back then, he was the first double amputee to complete a cross-country bike ride. To this day there hasn't been a second.

Perhaps he saved his greatest sporting achievement for last. In 2017 he ran 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities. Running 26.2 miles non-stop is an achievement in itself. Rob Jones ran a total of 812.2 miles in one month.

"I thought it would be a good idea to do it as a double amputee," he revealed. “I wanted to do it in different cities to draw as many eyes as possible. It would remain in the public eye for a long time to come.”

He called this his personal choice for his greatest sporting achievement. While those who support him may have their own favorites, he looks back fondly on everything he's done since he began his personal pursuit of physical excellence.

“The month of marathons was probably the most impressive because of all the logistical challenges. But I'm proud of it all."

As if that wasn't enough, the Virginia native also competed in numerous races, tower climbs and the Marine Corps 50K. These days, Jones is still fairly active, but not for another fitness challenge, but for a better quality of life and self-reliance so he can play a huge role in supporting his family, which is the number one reason for all of him.

"My body is the most important tool I rely on to be the husband and father that my family needs and deserves," he said. "It's important that it stays as fit as possible."

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