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Cyclist Rob Jones is pedaling through the Ozarks region this week; he’s riding across the country for charity. That alone would be a remarkable challenge, especially this winter. But Rob Jones is missing something most cyclists rely heavily on: their legs.
Jones was a combat engineer in the Marine Corps, which means his job was to work with explosives and find hidden IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. His life changed one day in 2010 when he and other troops were pushing into Taliban territory in Afghanistan.
“It was a pretty regular day, and we were pushing to a river in the Sangin district. And there was a danger area I had to clear—that’s basically just an area where we knew there was a pretty good chance there was an IED there. And when I was trying to find it, it exploded and severed both of my legs above the knee,” Jones said.
At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he was fitted with prosthetics, and took his first steps with two prosthetic knees.
“I realized there wasn’t anything I could do to change it, so I decided to see what I could do now,” he said.
Within six months, he was on a bike. He also learned to run and row. He began training for the 2012 Paralympics, and with his rowing partner, brought home the bronze medal in his event.
Now, he’s cycling from Maine to California. He cycled into the small town of Eminence, in southern Missouri, Wednesday, flanked by the Combat Vets Motorcycle Club and an escort from the Eminence Fire Department.
Thursday morning, he set out again but slipped in the first minute and slid 10 feet on his back. But he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
“I’ve been told that it’s gonna be cold about ten-thousand times by different people. And I’ve heard my fair share of ‘snow tire’ and ‘chains on my tires’ jokes. I try and pretend like it’s the first time I’ve heard it every time,” he said, chuckling.
Jones is trying to cycle 30 miles a day. He’s staying with families who have opened up their homes and little mom and pop motels rolling out the red carpet. His younger brother, Steve, who’s 18, is following behind him in a truck.
He says his prostheses haven’t given him any trouble in the cold weather so far.
Jones will attempt to ride to Summersville Friday, then Houston the next day, and then over to Marshfield and on to Kansas. Rob Jones says he feels a connection with the people who are coming out to wave, cheer, and ride beside him for a few miles; after all, these are the very people he enlisted to protect and defend.
Most people recognize the motto of the US Marine Corps; “Semper Fi,” Latin for “always faithful.” Even though Rob Jones was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2011, he’s remaining faithful to other vets. Through his cross-country bike ride, he’s trying to raise one million dollars for charities that help veterans recover from injuries like his.