32-year-old lost legs fight­ing in Afghanistan

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By KELYN SOONG The Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON — Marine Corps vet­eran Rob Jones wanted to change the nar­ra­tive of the bro­ken-down, wounded vet­eran strug­gling to tran­si­tion to civil­ian life. So for the past 31 days, he kept run­ning.

He ran to prove a point and to in­spire. Jones, who had both legs am­pu­tated af­ter be­ing wounded by a land mine while serv­ing in Afghanistan, ran the dis­tance of 31 marathons over 31 days in 31 dif­fer­ent cities.

On Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, with his back aching and legs sore, the 32-year-old Jones fin­ished his month of marathons near the steps lead­ing up to Lin­coln Memo­rial on a frigid Vet­er­ans Day. The crowd of sev­eral dozen sup­port­ers show­ered him with cheers. Jones smiled and took a few mo­ments to let the ac­com­plish­ment soak in.

“I de­cided I would cre­ate this story of a vet­eran that was wounded and thrived from it,” Jones said min­utes af­ter fin­ish­ing. “I think I ac­com­plished that mis­sion.”

All month, peo­ple fol­lowed Jones wher­ever he went like Tom Hanks in “For­rest Gump.” He started his jour­ney in Lon­don, where his wife, Pam, is orig­i­nally from and his team drove ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 miles across the United States in a 35-foot- long mo­tor home, where they slept.

From the time he stepped out of the ve­hi­cle, there were run­ners wait­ing for him, re­gard­less of the city or weather.

On Sat­ur­day, the tem­per­a­ture dipped below freez­ing for most the day, but there were never fewer than 20 run­ners who joined Jones on the mile­plus loops sur­round­ing the Re­flect­ing Pool.

“The sup­port has been in­cred­i­ble,” Jones said. “It's such a great com­pli­ment to have all these peo­ple come out and hear my story and deem it wor­thy of their time on the week­end, on a hol­i­day and come out and sup­port me.”

Some had heard of Jones' story from friends or read about it on­line, about how Jones had both legs am­pu­tated af­ter be­ing wounded in Afghanistan in 2010 and how he has since be­come a Par­a­lympic bronze medal­ist in row­ing, biked 5,180 miles across the coun­try and de­voted his life to rais­ing money for vet­er­ans' char­i­ties.

Jones has a life­time goal of rais­ing $1 mil­lion and es­ti­mates that his lat­est chal­lenge has raised be­tween $125,000 to $130,000. The bike chal­lenge raised an ad­di­tional $126,000, Jones said.

“I think it's amaz­ing,” said 12-year-old Michael Vertino of South Rid­ing, Vir­ginia. “I think it's pretty cool. He'll go down as a le­gend.”

Michael had heard about Jones's 31-marathon jour­ney from his fa­ther, AJ, a Marine Corps vet­eran. “I thought he was crazy,” Michael said was ini­tial re­ac­tion, but he then texted his friend, Quinn Grimes, and asked him if he wanted to run with Jones. There was no ques­tion that Jones had in­spired them both.

“The high­lights for me ... have been see­ing kids run out and run with him and ask him ques­tions,” Pam Jones said. “Kids have this amaz­ing abil­ity to ask these really in­no­cent ques­tions that will really im­pact them for the rest of their lives.”

But the trip also had painful lows. On Tues­day, Jones slipped on a Nash­ville bridge and badly in­jured his back.

Dur­ing a break on Sat­ur­day, a woman asked Jones what his plans were to re­lax.

“I think I'll go run,” he dead­panned.

Jones later said he ac­tu­ally would have gone run­ning in the com­ing days but that his back in­jury will force him to take a few days com­pletely off.

“I hate see­ing him in pain, but I also know that if this was easy, he would be frus­trated be­cause he wants it to be hard,” his wife said. “He wants to be an ex­am­ple of mak­ing some­thing hard so that you can chal­lenge your­self to be a bet­ter per­son.”

As for his next chal­lenge, Jones said he doesn't yet have any­thing planned. He'll “use phys­i­cal ex­er­cise for fun” and also in­dulge in other hob­bies that he hadn't had time for: read­ing books, lis­ten­ing to pod­casts and maybe even per­form a few open-mic stand-up com­edy shows.

But to those who know Jones best say it's fair to ex­pect some­thing spe­cial.

“Ev­ery­thing he does, he takes it to the ex­treme and it's epic,” said 35-year-old Eric Deav­illa of Bos­ton, who served with Jones in Afghanistan. “What­ever he does next, it's go­ing to be worth watch­ing.”

Photo by Kelyn Soong / The Wash­ing­ton Post

32-year-old Rob Jones, who lost both of his legs while fight­ing in Afghanistan, ran 31 marathons in 31 days to help raise money for vet­er­ans. Jones owns a Par­a­lympic bronze medal in row­ing and he’s biked 5,180 miles across the coun­try.

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