Double-amputee Marine veteran pushes on in all seasons
HUTCHINSON, Kansas — After riding 35 miles on a bicycle through the bitter cold Thursday morning, Rob Jones was ready for a break.
He sat on his bed at Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm near Nickerson and took off his warm bicycling gear - and his legs.
The Marine veteran from Lovettsville, Va., is not bashful about his double amputation. He is riding across the country to raise awareness and $1 million to help others in his predicament.
"I thought of the idea in therapy," Jones said. "I had big goals back then - I still do. I figured, 'One day I'll ride across America on a bike.' "
After serving in Iraq in 2008, Jones was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. While he was operating as part of a push into Taliban territory, he was asked to clear an area that had a high likelihood of containing an improvised explosive device, or IED. He and his fellow combat engineers were asked to detect buried IEDs and weapons caches, according to robjonesjourney.com.
He was searching when one of the IEDs he was looking for exploded. Doctors had to amputate both of Jones' legs above the knees.
Even after losing both legs, Jones did not want to give up. He had to relearn the simple things.
"I had recovery at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) for about a year and a half," he said. "I learned to walk and ride my bike."
He was fitted with prosthetic legs and had to learn how to walk with two prosthetic knees. At times, he was also forced to rely more on his upper body - it was in therapy that he took up rowing. In 2012, Jones and his rowing partner earned a bronze medal in the Paralympic Games.
Jones was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2011 and was awarded a Purple Heart.
Subzero wind chills don't seem to bother Jones as he continues to make his way across Kansas.
When Jones started around 8 a.m. Thursday near Hesston, a 15-mph north wind made the 5-degree temperature seem like 15 below zero, according to the National Weather Service.
Jones took it all in stride.
"If I bundle up, I don't really feel the cold that much," he said.
The only time he has been forced to take a day off was during the polar vortex phenomenon earlier this month which made roads in Missouri too icy for him to continue.
Bicycling is one of the hobbies Jones took up after his injury. He always liked it, but never did it much.
"When you're in physical therapy, that's the kind of a place where it's a good time to learn stuff that you might want to do in the future," he said. "You have all of this support and you're in the hospital. You experience people helping you out. I decided I wanted to learn how to ride a bike again - and I did. Now I'm kind of doing something with it."
He started his journey across the country in Maine in October. He averages about 35 miles per day and stays in hotels or even in the back of the support van that his brother, Steve Miller, 18, drives during the trip.
Hedrick's is the first place Jones has stayed that has live camels, ostriches and giraffes right outside his door.
"Obviously I've seen all of the animals that they have here before, but I've never seen them on a farm or anything," he said.
He's enjoying a break from hills and mountains as he cycles through Kansas. Law enforcement has escorted him through much of his journey across Kansas, including Thursday, when he was escorted by the Reno County Sheriff's Department.
It would be a perfect ride through the state except for the wind.
"The wind can be frustrating, but I can overcome it," he said.
Jones was chosen in 2013 by the Baltimore Orioles to be honored in the People Tribute for Heroes.
He was visited in his hospital room by President Barack Obama.
But in the end, he just wants to give back to organizations that have helped him so much through his injury, recovery and triumph.
In his ride across America, Jones is hoping to raise $1 million, which will go to three charities - Ride2Recovery, The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
"They're all charities that I had contact with during and after my recovery," he said. "I know people in charge. I trust them. I feel like they are very good charities."
By Thursday night, Jones had raised more than $84,000 for the nonprofit organizations.
Ride2Recovery benefits mental and physical rehabilitation programs for wounded service members with the sport of cycling, whether it is an upright bicycle like Jones is riding, a recumbent or a hand cycle.
The Coalition to Support America's Heroes provides financial assistance to injured service members and their families from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Semper Fi Fund provides financial relief to injured or severely ill post 9/11 Marine Corps and Navy service members and their families during hospitalization, recovery and afterward.
Anyone who would like to donate can visit Jones' website.