Wake up in a different city. Run a marathon. Travel to the next city. Repeat for 31 consecutive days.
That’s exactly what retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rob Jones, a double amputee who lost both legs serving in combat, did in his quest to become a stronger individual and help unite military and civilian citizens alike. Jones ran 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities, what he calls a "month of marathons," putting his body under extreme stresses along the way.
But one can’t help but ask – why undertake such a daunting challenge?
Jones’s motto is simply to survive, recover and live. Instead of letting a tragedy destroy his life, he wants to inspire others by showing that a double amputee can rise to the occasion and beat the odds, honoring veterans while raising awareness in the process.
“I was able to bounce back pretty quickly from my injuries,” said the former combat engineer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Somehow, I was able to accept the situation and just get on with my life and what I thought needed to be done. I wanted to live so my life objective was still the same – that was to have a positive impact on the world.”
For Jones, he said America’s most valuable resource is its people. He believes in collective action, where people can unite as a nation to solve problems and enrich the lives of others.
Most importantly, Jones hopes that his cross-country marathon challenge will bridge the gap of understanding between military and civilian communities. Inspiration is contagious and people can be inspired to affect change for important causes in their community and beyond, he said.
“Since I couldn’t fight in direct combat with America’s enemies anymore, I wanted to have an impact for some of the people coming back,” Jones said. “That’s when I decided to set out on my bike ride challenge in 2013. This ‘month of marathons’ is just a continuation of that. I’m trying to be an example for the men and women who may be struggling to figure out their way of contributing to society.”
Jones became the first and only double amputee to ride a normal bicycle after his solo 5,180-mile, 181-day bike journey from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 2013.
Jones also trained for and competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games, for which he won a bronze medal.
“I just want to put my story out there as a person who went to Afghanistan, and had a traumatic experience, but was still able to come back and find a new path to that ultimate goal of having an impact on the world,” he said. “For somebody that may be struggling or even somebody that isn’t struggling, I hope my story will make it easier for them to envision themselves accomplishing the same thing.”
But that wasn’t a big enough endeavor for the Virginia native who walks with two bionic knees.
Seeking a new opportunity to raise awareness for wounded veterans, Jones once again put the pedal to the metal – this time with the marathon challenge. Improving himself both physically and mentally while encouraging others to do the same, he said, requires fortitude, endurance and perseverance.
“People are already aware of veterans and the fact that they have struggles,” said Jones. “But I want to raise awareness to the fact that veterans can still contribute to society.”
For Jones, his main objective is to show his fellow veterans that they are not alone. It’s one thing to be aware of an issue, but encouraging others to make a contribution that symbolizes the love America has for its veterans is just as important, he said.
“I want people in the veteran population to know that and those in the civilian population as well,” Jones said. “The survive part of my motto is to do everything you can and have to do in order to overcome any tragedy or hardship you’ve experienced. Once you get through that, you have to spend time recovering – that means getting back everything that you may have lost and finding out what you’re capable of doing now to accomplish your mission.
“The live part of it would be to move forward with that plan and get back on your path. I found my new mission with the bike ride and month of marathons – that’s why I worked so hard in therapy. I didn’t want to be limited by anything because of my injuries.”
In honor of Veterans Day, Jones completed his 31st and last marathon on Nov. 11 in Washington, D.C., running loops near the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and surrounding war memorials. More than 100 veterans, civilians and their families participated or waved American flags from afar as they watched him run in a bright red Rob Jones Journey T-shirt.
“I just want to provide a window into part of the story of the wounded veteran. They may come back wounded but that doesn’t mean they’re damaged, broken or incapable of still contributing to society,” Jones said. “It is a worthwhile story and it’s important for people to realize that. I do want both sides of the coin to be shown so that they can have a broader range of knowledge of what a veteran is.”
Thanks to the overwhelming support and encouragement that Jones received during his nationwide journey, Jones is optimistic that he will accomplish his $1 million fundraising goal for wounded veteran charities. He will continue this endeavor in support of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
“We’re all warriors. We’re all members of that brotherhood we had while serving in the military,” Jones said. “You didn’t go to war by yourself; you were with a team. So, that team remains intact in the civilian world and if you’re struggling, all you got to do is lean on that brotherhood. We’ll be there.”