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.
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.
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.