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Jones gets hero’s welcome at Pendleton, throws first pitch at Petco Park
By Andrea Papagianis
Rob Jones and Ray Clark met at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Ma.
Jones, a young sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, had returned from Afghanistan, wounded and entering recovery. At 24, Jones was injured by the weapons of warfare he had been tasked to look for: improvised explosive devices.
Jones, of Lovettsville, Va., was seriously injured. Photographs taken after the incident show a battered Marine. Badly wounded, Jones’ legs were amputated above the knee. Through it all, Rob maintained his spirit, his father Lenny recalled Saturday morning as Jones embarked on the last miles of his cross-country journey, a fundraising tribute to injured servicemen and women.
“He got us all through this,” Lenny Jones said, holding back tears.
Jones and Clark met through the organization Ride 2 Recovery, which Clark serves as program coordinator for at Walter Reed. The Calabasas-based nonprofit has assisted more than 10,000 wounded veterans build their strength through cycling. Jones set his sights on conquering a challenge. He was determined to once again ride a bike—no hand cycles or recumbent bikes, Jones wanted a traditional, upright bike.
Jones slowly began riding in early 2011. Together with Clark, Jones took to a tandem bike, allowing Jones to build up his core strength and regain his mobility. The cycling helped him walk.
As Jones grew stronger, he took to the pavement solo but clipping in and out of pedals was difficult without knees. Clark and Jones continued to work, and Jones devised a plan to protect himself when he fell. Towels provided cushioning on handlebars and the bike’s frame.
“Despite everyone saying it couldn’t be done or that it was too dangerous … as if serving in Afghanistan as an engineer wasn’t dangerous,” said John Wordin, founder of Ride 2 Recovery. “Rob proved that you set your goals, not a therapist or anyone else. And with a little help, anything can be done.”
Jones set aside riding for a time and pursued a new challenge: rowing. He went on to become a Paralympian, bring home a bronze medal, with his partner, from the 2012 London Games.
Last year, Jones told Wordin, “I am riding across the country.” Jones chose a route, riding east to west, from Bar Harbor, Maine to Camp Pendleton. Biking about 30 miles per day, with his brother and then dad following, Jones crossed the country during one of the nation’s worst winters on record.
On Saturday, Jones’ more than six-month, 5,000-mile ride neared its end. Escorted by 50 or more riders, Jones left Dana Point in the early hours to Camp Pendleton, where he received a hero’s welcome. Clark, the man who got Jones going, rode beside him as he completed his journey.
“I am not surprised to see Rob achieve his goals, because he is that kind of guy,” Clark said.
Jones rode into San Diego’s Petco Park Sunday on the bike that took him across the nation. Marking the Padres’ Military Opening Day, Jones threw out the ceremonious first pitch and was honored by actor Gary Sinise, who after his role in Forrest Gump as double-amputee Lt. Dan Taylor became an advocate for wounded veterans.
Through the ride, Jones raised about $115,000 for Ride 2 Recovery, the Semper Fi Fund and the Coalition to Salute American Heroes.
“Having a purpose and having something to work toward is always going to make your life better,” Jones said. “In order to get what you want, you have to prove it to yourself and work at.”