Marine double amputee biking across US to raise money for veterans
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2013
Former Marine Rob Jones qualifies as a minor celebrity, the kind who gets recognized from time to time.
He’s a war hero, a bronze medal-winning Paralympic rower and one of the stars of the documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor” alongside stars like Zach Galifianakis and Bob Saget.
But to Stephen Miller, Jones will always be the older brother who held him down and tickled him until he couldn’t breathe.
Jones — who lost both legs to a Taliban IED — has set out on his latest challenge, bicycling across America to raise $1 million for veterans’ charities.
Miller, 18, said his brother is just stubborn enough to accomplish his goal, as he has with just about every other thing he has ever put his mind to.
“He’s pretty impressive,” Miller, who is driving the follow car for his 28-year-old brother, said earlier this month during a short respite from their journey. “He doesn’t like to give up. We’re all just really proud of him.”
Jones grew up on a farm in the small town of Lovettsville, Va., where he enjoyed baseball and soccer. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2007. During his junior year, Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve, knowing he would likely see action. He was assigned to Company B, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoke.
As a combat engineer, Jones was responsible for using explosives, locating buried weapons caches and detecting buried IEDs, the top killer of U.S. troops.
He deployed to Habbaniyah, Iraq, in 2008, then in 2010 to Afghanistan’s Sangin District, a hotbed of Taliban activity. Jones was out front, clearing a route to the Helmand River, when he triggered an IED that cost him his legs.
Miller said the family hoped the injury wouldn’t defeat his brother, pushing the guy he knew as funny and lovable into lethargy and depression. It didn’t.
“I accepted my situation,” Jones said Dec. 12 while riding over the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky on a pair of prosthetic legs. “I was excited to see what I could do with it.”
Jones started trying to learn how to ride in January 2011. Mounting and dismounting was difficult. It took 10 months of honing his technique until he could do it by himself.
He took up rowing in March 2011, dedicating himself to it full time when he retired from the Corps in December. He quickly landed a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team and won bronze in trunk and arms mixed double sculls in London the following August.
Jones stuck with rowing for another year while pursuing another love, standup comedy.
“When I was a kid, I would wake up at 6 a.m. before school and watch ‘Evening at the Improv,’” he said. “I watched a lot of Comedy Central.”
Jones studied Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K. Then he was cast with several other veterans for “Comedy Warriors,” now showing on Showtime.
A new challenge followed: biking across the country. He chose the most difficult route he could find, starting in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Oct. 14, heading south toward home, across the Midwest to near San Francisco and then south to near San Diego in the spring. He is averaging about 30-40 miles per day and said the Appalachians have been a formidable but beatable foe.
Miller says he sometimes worries about his brother, riding in the cold. But he is brushed off every time he checks on him.
Thus far, Jones has raised about $52,000 for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Semper Fi Fund and Ride 2 Recovery. He said he will be proud of whatever he is able to raise should he fall short of his goal.
“I don’t think I have anything to prove,” Jones said. “If I finish it will be one of my biggest accomplishments but wouldn’t be bigger than being in the Marines. After this, I’ll have to go bigger.”