Paralympian Embarks on Cross-Country Cycling Journey
Wounded Marine Rob Jones on quest to raise $1 million for charities that supported his recovery
Bar Harbor, ME to Sand Diego, CA - Rob Jones has never taken the easy route. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. Paralympian and combat-wounded retired Marine has chosen Bar Harbor, Maine, as the starting point for his epic cross-country cycling trek. He began his adventure on October 14th, and he doesn’t plan to quit until he’s reached the sandy beaches of San Diego, California sometime between February and April.
What makes Rob’s journey so unique is that he will be pedaling his bicycle with prosthetic legs. During his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, the Marine combat engineer was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED), resulting in double above-knee amputations of both his legs.
“Most people don’t understand just how difficult it is to ride a bike with prostheses,” Rob explained, while training for his expedition. “Most people use their quads, calves and glutes to pedal, while I am only able to use my glutes. It’s extremely challenging, but I’m determined to achieve my goal.”
Rob is no stranger to world-class achievements. Last summer, he and his partner won a Bronze Medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London in the Trunk and Arms Mixed Double Sculls event. He has competed in the Marine Corps 10K (6.2 Miles), the Army 10- Miler, the Charlottesville Half Marathon, the CFI Mini Triathlon and the Nation’s Olympic Distance Triathlon (a .9-mile swim, 24-mile bike, and a 6.2-mile run). In 2012, Rob was named USA Rowing’s Man of the Year.
Given his extraordinary track record, who would bet against him now?
Rob will head from Bar Harbor south along the Atlantic seaboard to Blacksburg, VA, where he will pivot west and begin the cross-continental march to San Francisco. He’ll then “coast” south toward his personal finish line in San Diego. By then, he will have covered 5,400 miles, averaging 30 miles per day.
Why is he doing this?
“It’s simple, really. I am committed to giving back to the charitable organizations that were there for me in my darkest hours,” he says. “They helped me stand back up on new legs, learn how to walk again, then ride a bike again, then become a world-class rower. Now, with the help of patriotic and generous Americans, I intend to pay it forward, so those organizations can help even more wounded soldiers, like me, in their time of greatest need.”
Virtually unique among other ambitious fundraising initiatives, 100 percent of the money donated to Rob Jones’ Journey will go to the charities he is supporting: The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Semper Fi Fund and Ride 2 Recovery. Rob has already secured enough funds to purchase the equipment, including a support vehicle, he’ll need to complete his trip. He will be counting on the kindness of his fellow Americans for an occasional meal and overnight accommodations; but all cash donations made through his web site, www.RobJonesJourney.com, will pass directly through to the charities.
His Olympic-sized fundraising goal: $1 million.
“It’s important to me that people know I’m not getting anything out of this financially,” Rob explained. “While I will accept certain in-kind sponsorships from companies that want to support me, any cash they provide will go straight to the charities. Just like the funds individuals donate. This is truly all about giving back.”
Rob has already secured one corporate supporter, Bonk Breaker Energy Bars, which is supplying its products to help fuel his journey.
In his short adaptive rowing career, Rob and his Team Bad Company partner, Oksana Masters, have won several major competitions, including the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Selection Trials, the 2012 World Rowing Final Paralympic Qualifier in Belgrade, Serbia, and the 2013 U.S. Para-Rowing Championships. The pair placed 3rd in the Samsung World Rowing Cup in England earlier this year, and 4th at the World Championships in South Korea in August.
ROB'S REST DAY WRITINGS
I knew it was going to be a rough day when I woke up and checked Weather Underground on my phone. 15 degrees Fahrenheit, feels like 9. After breakfast, Steve and I ventured out on the snow dusted ground to the truck. All of the water in the back was frozen There was just enough unfrozen water in one of our four gallon jugs to fill up my water bottle. I couldn't, however, ride with it because it would be useless, as the nozzle would freeze in a very short time, so I left it in the truck. We parked at our starting point an open gravel area right off the side of the road with a couple of grain silos, and I savored the last few minutes of warmth in the truck as I layered up: two long sleeved shirts,a tee shirt my mom made me that has a sweater sewn into the front to block the wind, and my trusty "Team Rob" shirt that I have worn every day of the ride on top. On the bottom, I had bike shorts, a pair of special underwear Pam made me to protect vital areas from the wind, and a pair of shorts. My hand were covered by my glove liners and lobster claw gloves. And to top it all off, I wore my neck gaiter, ear warmers, and my helmet. After I started my trackers, and posted it with my clever quip for the day, I opened the door to a stiff wind. I waddled to the back of the truck, and applied Vaseline to my contact points, and took a sip of my sports drink of choice, Accelerade. I took my final urination before starting, walked to my bike out to the road which had two car tire width paths through light slush for me to ride in, and I set off.
The wind immediately made me aware that it was not in favor of my decision. Or maybe the Earth was trying to make sure I was topped off on oxygen by blowing it directly into my mouth at high speed. Specifically, 20 miles per hour with gusts up to 30. Thanks, Earth. Despite the resistance, I trudged on. Around bends, up hills, down hills. The most annoying thing about riding into wind like this is that there is no break. Except on steep downhill sections, the wind is strong enough that you even have to pedal downhill.Despite the bitter cold and high winds, I stayed nice and toasty, which surprised me. I even began to sweat as i climbed hill after hill, and endured gust after gust. Eventually I was flagged down by a gentleman from a radio station and brought in for an interview. After the interview, I checked my GPS for my progress: 11 kilometers. In an hour. Now,I'm not a speedy biker, but that is even slow for me. I did the math and the conclusion was depressing: 5 hours of cycling in this wind.It was a drag, but what other choice did I have besides saddling back up?
The wind blew constantly. Not only that, but constantly in my face. It didn't matter which way I turned I could be going into the wind headed south, make a 90 degree turn, and somehow the wind would still be in my face. My nose was running as usual, except this time when I blew it, instead of being absorbed into my shirt it froze on the outside. Even my neck gaiter was a stiff piece of fabric that my breath couldn't keep warm. After 33 kilometers, I took a break in the truck, and scarfed down a Bonk Breaker and drank a Mountain Dew. I needed the extra caffeine, I thought. I continued on. The wind let up a tad, but the hills became steeper to make up for it. Eventually I saw the people that were planning to escort me into Chester, Illinois. After making it up one last steep hill a police officer informed me that I was almost there. I was wracked with fatigue, my legs burned, and my lungs burned. I rounded a corner, and in the distance I could see a group of people gathered with firetrucks and American flags waving. As I got closer, my fatigue dissipated. The cheers of admirers gave me that extra boost that I needed to pedal the last 500 meters. When I got off my bike I felt sick and dizzy, but all of the pain that I had just endured was worth it to make it to that point.
This is just one day of pain,and one town. I get asked often how I continue on for so long in such conditions. And I remember things like this, except amplified tenfold. I know how good it is going to feel when I finish. And I know how much it would sting if I quit. So I keep going because what I'm riding for is worth it.
It is day 5. It is 1:30 in the afternoon, and I’ve been riding for four hours. My eyes are locked on my bike computer as it seems to somehow click the remaining meters off in the same vortex that made the clock slow as it approached 3:00 in elementary school. 47.4….47.5….47.6. My eyes are going between the computer and the road, actively searching for a place to pull over my bike and truck to call it a day. A good pull off spot has to have several qualities: it must be on either flat or downhill terrain. It must have room for both my bike, and the truck. It must be a place where I can linger while I load my bike and change clothes. Finally the kilometers read 48, and I pull over at the first available spot. I am worn out and can’t wait to lay down.
|Rob has already biked over 1400 miles through 10 states and is into Kentucky, having biked down from Maine to Virginia and now west. So far he has raised over $50,000. He has broken prosthetic parts, bike parts and truck parts, but these broken parts have not and will not break his honor, optimism and determination. That is just who he is.|
Twenty five days later I go through the same ritual, but why? Surely after thirty days of cycling my body would have adapted to the stresses I had been putting on it, and I could go for 50+ kilometers. The reason is that in my mind, when I was going to quit was preordained. I had already decided on 48 kilometers(30 miles), so my body reacted to what my mind had told it to. So even if my body was capable of doing 35 miles or more, my mind wasn’t, so therefore I didn’t. In the context of day 5, it made sense to stop after 30 miles because I was merely beginning. But as I got further and further into the trip, 30 miles no longer made sense, but I continued to use that distance as my goal because that’s what I was used to. It’s what I was good at, and I like doing things I am good at, just like anybody else.
We all do it. We limit ourselves and our potential by deciding before we try something how we are going to do. “I didn’t sleep well last night, so I probably won’t hit a personal best on deadlifts today.” “I’m probably just going to run three miles today.” “I’m going to cycle 30 miles today.” A wise individual once wrote, if you wake up in the morning and plan to ride 100 miles, and finish, then someone suggests you ride 100 more, you will claim you can’t do it. But if you wake up on that same day planning to do 200 miles you’ll do it with no problem. So why not go and see what you can do? Instead of undermining your performance before you even start, why not aim high and force yourself to grow? You may fail, yes. But you will experience more in that failure than you ever would have running three miles for the thousandth time. Your mind and your body need to be stressed in order to grow. Otherwise they stagnate. And, to me, that is unbearable.
Luckily, I recognized this before it was too late. For the past ten days I have decided to ride by feel instead of planning ahead. I won’t do less than 30, but I will no longer stop at 30 just because I arbitrarily decided that was a good goal two months ago. In those last ten days, only once did I stop at 30. When the mind is freed of its limitations, so is the body. I am glad that both of mine now are.
Today's rest day writing is on the subject of competition and emulation, and how they can make us better.
It is important when you are trying to be as good as you can be to find ways to spur yourself on from time to time. One of the best ways to do this is to have somebody to compete against, and also somebody to emulate. The former can be used to light a spark to push ourselves further than we might push when we are alone. The latter can be used to remind us of what we can be like, and where we can go. And also help to show us the path that we need to follow. When I was recovering, I had both. Neither of these people knew the niches they
were filling in my life, but that didn't really matter.
The guy that I was emulating's name was Dan Cnossen. He was a Navy SEAL, double AK just like me, but had been there maybe a year or so before I got to Walter Reed. So by the time I started my therapy, he had already accomplished all of the things that I needed to do. He was using prosthetic knees without any assistive devices, he could run, he could go down stairs, down hills, he could do it all just about. So because he was in the clinic most days, I had a constant reminder of where I was going to be as long as I put in the hours.
Once we are shown that something is possible, it becomes a thousand times easier to do it, because there is no little voice telling us that it might not even be doable. So when I saw that Dan could not use canes, I knew I could do it. When I heard he ran ten miles, I knew I could do it.
But eventually Dan left, and moved on. And I noticed when he did, that there were a lot of new guys around in the clinic. And they were asking me stuff, and watching me. So I realized that I had become what Dan was to me to these guys. So not only is it important to have somebody that you emulate, but it's almost just as important to BE somebody worthy of emulation. Because both things are going to make you better.
So if I was feeling tired one day I could ask myself two questions: would Dan have made an excuse to not go in to therapy? And, do I want the newer guys to think that it's ok to make excuses? No and no. And then eventually after I had been there long enough, I started
to be able to do things that Dan never got to when he was at Walter Reed. I learned how to ride a bike, which is something that we were both working on. I got to a point where I needed to find new people to look up to. Because once you arrive where you are going, the only way to get somewhere else is to pick a new place to go.
You can't grow unless you have experiences, and you won't have experiences if you stay in one spot.
My competitor was a guy named Aaron. Now of course, he wasn't aware of our competition, and we were actually friends, I just want to say that at the start. But we were about at the same point in our recoveries, walking wise. He was a couple weeks ahead of me. He stopped using canes a little before me, got his knees before me, started running before me, all just a couple of weeks ahead. And his work ethic was incredible, we were usually the two in the clinic for the longest every day. I am an extremely competitive person, I'm always striving to
be the best guy around, especially when there is somebody that is just a liiiiittle bit better than me.
So I was always trying to catch up to Aaron. Once I saw that he wasn't using canes anymore, I expedited my progress towards dropping my own. Once I saw that he could run, I needed to be able to do the same. Once we were both running, I would run around outside until I was convinced I worked harder that day, so that I would be able to catch up. If I wasn't in the clinic for longer every day, it ate at me, and I made sure the next day I stayed all day.
We also helped each other out, as well. We were roommates, so we talked about techniques we were learning for tackling downhills, or stairs, or different setups with knees and feet that we had tried. And it made both of us better, which meant that I needed to compete even harder, and thusly I grew more as well. I like for my competition to be as good as they can possibly be, so I like to help them when I can.
A lot of people are secretive about their training, or their race plans, or their weaknesses, but I am the opposite. I want all of my competitors to know exactly what I do, and exactly how to beat me. Because it is only by competing against somebody as good as you, or ideally better than you, that you make yourself better. And not only that, but making the whole of competitors
better will improve your sport, and increase human potential in general, and isn't that the goal?
So by competing with Aaron, my recovery was accelerated. I always set up competition in my training sessions as well. If there is nobody else around to race, then I'll compete against my former self, and make sure my time is faster, or I go for longer, or lift heavier.
On the fourth day of my ride after doing my morning 15 miles, Steve and I pulled over in a sports complex with a large dirt parking lot off the side of the road. I dismounted my bike, and waddled it over to the back of the truck. After Steve slid up the back door I slid myself into the back. I grabbed a Bonk Breaker bar out of our foot box and topped it with some Nutella for my snack. I took my shirt off and laid it out to dry in the warm sun.
The weather was unusually warm for this time of year in Maine. As I was looking over my map, enjoying the day, and joking with Steve about our second angry honk, a man came up along side us. His name was Brian and he was a math teacher and cross country coach who practiced at the sports complex.
As we got to talking, we discovered that he was a bit of a world traveler himself. He had walked from California to Wisconsin after retiring from the Coast Guard, trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. What he said next was exactly the same thing that I had been coming to realize after only a few short days on the bike: "You know, they say you're going to have a lot of time to think about stuff, and there sure is plenty of time, but..you don't think." He was exactly right.
I got asked by a lot of people about what I would be thinking about while I was on this trip, and the answer is, not a whole lot. When I set out I figured I would be contemplating life, my future, and all manner of things. But the honest truth is most of the time I'm either humming a song that's stuck in my head, focusing on my route coming up, what gear I'm in, calculating how soon it is until I can take a break, or talking to myself about how close the top of this damn hill is. I have plenty of downtime after my ride is over for the day, but I don't do much thinking then, either. I'm generally so tired of focusing and putting effort into something that I just want to relax and do something that doesn't require a lot of focus, like reading.
It was refreshing to hear it from another person that has done something like this. And it was encouraging to talk to someone who had gone through a similar experience, come out the other side, and could talk about it as a memory.