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Marine veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan completes his final marathon of 31-day stretch

Before starting his 31st marathon run in as many days, Rob Jones addresses a crowd of supporters in Washington, D.C., Nov. 11, 2017.

By STEPHEN CARLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 11, 2017

WASHINGTON — Rob Jones braved the cold weather on Veterans Day to complete his mission: running 31 marathons in 31 days.

After losing his legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010, Jones has shown endurance that few can rival.

“I’m pretty sore, but overall I am feeling pretty good,” Jones told Stars and Stripes as the sun rose over the Lincoln Memorial.

Jones’ final run was on the National Mall in Washington, where he ran 26.2 miles to support his fellow veterans and raise money for charity.

Jones was laid out on a couch before setting out for his final run shortly after 7 a.m., bandages being taken of his back after falling during a race in Atlanta. He sat up, his artificial legs off, and clearly thought about this last race while he spoke.

Jones began his quest Oct. 12 in London, then flew to the States to race in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. He has raced in nearly every major city since then, running the equivalent of a marathon each day.

There was an air of exhaustion and pain about him, but he seemed determined.

“I’m feeling good. I’m excited about this last one. It is going to be painful,” he said.

When asked which run was the toughest, he mentioned his recent run in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 3.

“Houston was very tough because of the humidity. The last three have been tough because of the back injury,” he said, referencing his tumble in Atlanta on Nov. 8. “It is hard to say which is the toughest, but I would have to say Houston, because I felt the most like crap after that one.”

“The last three ones, it was a lot more pain than usual, more an injury pain, but Houston — I did not have any energy in my body, so it was a different kind of discomfort.”

Jones is raising money for the Semper Fi Fund, the Top of the Towers foundation, and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. He said he has raised about $125,000, though he could not give an exact number. “We have a lot of T-shirt money, so we have to add that in there,” he said.

Jones was a combat engineer with the Marine Corps Reserves who deployed to Iraq in 2008 before his time in Afghanistan left him without legs above the knee.

Many would take such a grievous injury as a reason to give up. Not Jones. After he was evacuated, Jones lay half-comatose while his mother came to visit, a garish pirate hat on his head. His humor led him to do stand-up at a star-studded tour called “Comedy Warriors: The Road to Healing” and he made self-deprecating jokes about how he had stepped in the wrong spot.

Jones’ 31-day trek has inspired many, including flag-waving people on large homemade skateboards chasing him around at his final race with large American flags attached.

“I’m expecting all these good people to be running out there with me, so I’m going to have to feed off their energy.”

After losing his legs in Afghanistan, he said, “I was going to stand and fight.”

“I don’t run for anyone; I have never lost a close friend in either of those wars,” he said. “I’m trying to get the story out about a veteran who went over to Afghanistan, and something traumatic happened.”

Jones hails from a small farm in Lovettsville, Va. He played baseball and soccer and attended Virginia Tech. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2007, when action in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed very likely. He was assigned to Company B, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, in Roanoke, Va.

Like most combat engineers, his deployed life was focused on the plague of soldiers and Marines throughout the wars: IEDs. He was injured trying to protect his fellow Marines from an invisible, deadly enemy.

Jones has a bronze medal from the Paralympics for rowing and has biked over 5,000 miles

“I have a different set of legs for each purpose, for each thing I want to do, like walking, I have legs for that; getting around the house, I have legs for that. Each kind of leg is designed for one thing and one thing only.”

His different sets of legs, ranging from running shoes to proverbial slippers, are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jones says he is satisfied with the care he receives through the agency.

“I go in, tell them what I need, and they get it for me.”

Just after 1:30 pm, Jones crossed the finish line, completing his odyssey in the name of other veterans.

“I feel thankful for all this group of people around here supporting me. I feel thankful to live in a country that appreciates veterans so much. I feel thankful for living in a country where there are so many people that are willing to sacrifice everything for it, and I’m thankful for living in a country that is worth that sacrifice that people make.”

carlson.stephen@stripes.com
 

Marine Corps veteran Rob Jones leads a crowd of supporters along the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as he runs his 31st marathon in as many days Saturday morning.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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