Amputee biking across America

Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

Former Marine Rob Jones isn’t one to look back or dwell in the past. You really can’t afford to when you’re trying to bike across the United States. There are tricky turns, bumps and speeding drivers ahead.

Rob Jones sits in the back of the box truck, which is driven by his brother, Steve. Jones uses it to house food, equipment and occasionally uses it for lodging.

Rob Jones sits in the back of the box truck, which is driven by his brother, Steve. Jones uses it to house food, equipment and occasionally uses it for lodging.

Sometimes, he’s lucky to look up from the GPS on his wrist and catch the view of a distant mountaintop or two, or even a sunset as it dips below the horizon. Other times he isn’t as fortunate, feeling every bit of every pedal stroke as he challenges the next upslope.

“I’m focused on what I’m doing,” Jones said. “There’s not much that can take your focus away from going up a hill. I’ll keep track of what gear I’m in and when I’m able to stop, but that’s about it. I don’t really think about anything profound when I’m on the bike. I’m mostly focused on what I’m doing.”

But to truly understand what Jones is doing, one has no choice but to spend some moments doing what Jones has little time for: looking back.

When Jones does look back, he remembers everything, or at least almost. He remembers working as a combat engineer as a private first class in the Marines. He remembers sweeping fields of mines while in Sangin, Afghanistan in July of 2010. He talks about July 22, 2010, a day that would change his life, in a candid, unwavering tone. That was the day he stepped on an improvised explosive device and was flung into the air.

“I was just trying to clear a route through a danger area,” Jones said. “I either missed what I was supposed to find or it blew up when I found it. I remember pretty much everything. I don’t remember flying through the air, but I remember landing and everything.”

In a matter of seconds, Jones had gone from a brawny Marine just three years removed from his graduation from Virginia Tech to a double-leg amputee residing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

At first, Jones confides he wasn’t thrilled to be alive, a decision he now attributes to a “naïve and uninformed” opinion of what it meant to be an amputee. Jones soon realized that what he really needed to survive was to be challenged, by both those around him and by his very own self.

“I was looking for sports to do within a month,” Jones said. “I was looking around to see what sports were available.”

Within a few months, Jones had stumbled upon the sport of rowing. He picked it up so quickly he qualified for the 2012 Paralympics. He returned from those London games with a bronze medal.

But with the conclusion of the games came the conclusion of the adventure. It was time to look ahead.

In his recovery, Jones had also taken up mountain biking, a sport he said he wasn’t very good at even before his injuries. Jones worked with Zach Harvey, Walter Reed’s chief of prosthetics, to develop legs stable enough for the task.

To read the entire story, see the Nov. 28 edition of The Central Virginian.

Headlines of the Day