Jones gets hero’s welcome at Pendleton, throws first pitch at Petco Park

U.S. Marine Corps veteran and double amputee Rob Jones shares a moment with the man who taught him how to ride again, Ray Clark. Jones finished a cross-country bike ride from Maine to Camp Pendleton Saturday morning accompanied by area riders. Photo: Andrea Papagianis
U.S. Marine Corps veteran and double amputee Rob Jones shares a moment with the man who taught him how to ride again, Ray Clark. Jones finished a cross-country bike ride from Maine to Camp Pendleton Saturday morning accompanied by area riders. Photo: Andrea Papagianis

By Andrea Papagianis

“Having a purpose and having something to work toward is always going to make your life better.”–Rob Jones

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.

“He got us all through this.”–Lenny Jones

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.

Ride 2 Recovery founder John Wordin shared Jones’ story Saturday amidst a room of Rob’s supporters, including local leaders and nonprofits, family members and fellow veteran riders.

Rob 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,” Wordin said, “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, bringing home a bronze medal, with his partner, from the 2012 London Games.

“Rob proved that you set your goals, not a therapist or anyone else.”–John Wordin

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.

Accompanied by more than 50 cyclists, wounded veteran Rob Jones rides down Pacific Coast Highway en route to the final stop of his cross-country trip, Camp Pendleton. Photo: Tiffini Skuce Ride 2 Recovery
Accompanied by more than 50 cyclists, wounded veteran Rob Jones rides down Pacific Coast Highway en route to the final stop of his cross-country trip, Camp Pendleton. Photo: Tiffini Skuce Ride 2 Recovery

On Saturday, Rob’s 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 Rob going, rode beside Jones 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.

Jones finished his ride but hasn’t reached his $1 million fundraising goal to assist veterans facing similar challenges. He raised about $115,000 thus far, which will go to support Ride 2 Recovery, Semper Fi Fund and 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.”

Read more about Rob’s road to recovery at www.robjonesjourney.com.

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