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Just two weeks after Rob Jones had both his legs amputated in 2010, he decided to train for the Paralympics.

Jones lost his legs below the knee in Afghanistan after he accidentally stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) during a routine clearing. In his online journal, he wrote that it felt "like my lower legs had fallen asleep for so long that it hurt. Except magnified by 50 times."

Before he deployed, he'd decided that if he lost his legs above the knees in action, he'd rather bleed out than live like that. The limb losses he sustained, however, ended up requiring him to have above-the-knee amputations. And when he learned about all the advancements that had been made with knee joint prosthetics, he changed his tune.


[rebelmouse-image 19398287 dam="1" original_size="700x469" caption="Jones in physical therapy. All photos via Rob Jones, used with permission." expand=1]Jones in physical therapy. All photos via Rob Jones, used with permission.

"[When I realized] that my mission for my life, namely to make it meaningful and enjoyable, had not changed, I was able to accept the situation quite quickly," writes Jones in an email.

With his lofty goal in place, Jones set out on a year and a half of grueling physical therapy.

After a month of debridement surgeries every other day and another few months of recovery in the hospital, he was finally able to start the long process of rehabilitation.

He trained five days a week up to four or five hours a day and did everything from core strengthening to balance drills to maneuvering stairs, hills, and uneven ground on prosthetics.

"The prosthetic progression started with me being on very short legs called 'stubbies' and graduating to taller legs as I got better [at walking]," Jones explains.

Jones training on stubbies.

Soon he started using prosthetics with bionic knees, which allowed him to relearn how to run and cycle.

And, even though he'd never tried it before, he also picked up rowing, which ended up taking him far in the Paralympics.

Jones saw his recovery in milestones. At first, the milestones were little things like sitting up in bed and making it outside in a wheelchair. Once he started training, they escalated to athletic milestones, like being able to do 18 pull-ups or pushing past a personal rowing record. And the more goals Jones set for himself, the brighter his outlook on the future grew.

Eventually this led him to compete and win the bronze medal in the 2012 Paralympics rowing competition. He also biked over 5,000 miles across the country to raise money for wounded veterans.

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Despite these incredible feats, he was nowhere near done. In his effort to keep moving forward, Jones set a monumental new goal — he'd run 31 marathons in 31 days.

Initially, the "Month of Marathons" idea came out of a disappointment — he didn't make it into the Paralympics triathlon. However, his ultimate mission became about much more than achieving a personal milestone. He wanted to change the conversation around veterans from one of struggle to one of hope.

"I knew that something needed to be done to change the perception of wounded veterans," writes Jones. [People] think all veterans to come home with PTSD, and I was concerned that this expectation would cause returning veterans to manifest symptoms in themselves."

So, he decided he'd craft a new narrative — one where instead being overcome by PTSD, a veteran found a way to grow stronger in spite of it. He'd also raise funds for wounded veterans while he was at it.

Since Jones had always been an athlete and had been training relentlessly for the Paralympics, he knew he was in prime condition to take on this challenge. However, he still put himself through18 months of intense running and cardiovascular training to get his endurance up.

Jones training.

Finally, it was just a matter of planning the route and figuring out where the RV would park at the beginning and end of every day — a job his wife selflessly took on along with many other tasks. His friend Colin volunteered as driver, and Jones' mom became the RV's resident chef.

The actual Month of Marathons was long, repetitive, and exhausting to put it mildly. But the outcome more than made up for the struggle.

He started in London (his wife's birthplace) on Oct. 11, 2017, and continued on a criss-cross tour of America that spanned over 10,000 miles.

"[I'd] wake up at 5:30 am, run a marathon, do interviews, talk to supporters, hop in the RV, eat, sleep repeat," Jones writes.

Mind you, these weren't official marathons Jones was running — each day he ran loops he plotted out himself in city parks and on trails.

As days went by, more and more people began to follow him, some who'd never run a marathon before. Soon, his journey started to resemble a scene out of "Forrest Gump."  

Jones running with his followers.

When he finally reached his personal finish line on Veterans Day, near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., his body was feeling all sorts of pain, but his mind only felt one thing — thankful.

He was thankful "that I live in a country with so many people willing to show veterans they are loved," Jones writes.

By the end of his journey, he'd raised over $200,000 for veteran charities, inspiring many people to see veterans in a new light in the process.

He also inspired himself to continue his mission of advocating and raising money for veterans who are struggling to adjust to civilian life. He knows more than most how challenging it can be to find your purpose again after going through a traumatic experience. However, he's also a testament to what the human spirit is capable of in the midst of a challenge.

While there's no magic trick to coping with trauma, Jones' milestone motivation is a good place to start. Every step forward, no matter how small, is an important part of getting to the finish line.

After all, it's a marathon, not a race.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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