ST. LOUIS • Seven years ago, Marine veteran Rob Jones was just learning to walk again.
He held metal bars for stability at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, slowly adjusting to life with two prosthetic legs.
Jones was wounded while serving in Afghanistan in 2010 after stepping on a land mine. Both his legs were amputated.
But now Jones is taking on an endeavor to run 31 marathons … in 31 days … in 31 different major cities, to raise money for other wounded veterans.
Jones’ project will bring him to St. Louis on Sunday where he will run his 11th marathon in so many days through Forest Park. He hopes people in the city will join him.
“You don’t have to run the whole marathon,” Jones said. “But I want people to push themselves, whatever that means for you.”
Jones said his 812-mile journey would also show that wounded veterans are not broken, but can thrive and give back when they come home.
“Everybody has to find their own way to contribute,” he said. “We have to use our own personal talents — and one of mine is to endure things that most people wouldn’t.
“I think the Marines taught me that.”
Farm boy turned Marine Jones grew up helping on his family’s farm in the small town of Lovettsville, Va.
He attended college at Virginia Tech, where he decided to join the Marine Corps Reserve.
In 2008, a year after he graduated, Jones was deployed to Habbaniyah, Iraq, and was deployed in 2010 to Delaram, Afghanistan.
He became a combat engineer, a dangerous job that involves using explosives and detecting buried IEDs and weapons caches.
On July 22, 2010, that job would change his life.
On a mission into Taliban territory, Jones was clearing an area with a high likelihood of roadside bombs, and stepped on a land mine. He was severely wounded along with his fellow Marine and friend Daniel Jones.
Rob Jones would go through weeks of surgeries. He would need 18 months of intensive rehabilitation.
Still, in his first cellphone video message to Daniel Jones he already had big plans.
“First things first, we got to design a workout program to get on our feet again,” he said into the camera with breathing tubes still attached to his face and his hand wrapped in gauze.
Becoming an athlete
Jones was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in December 2011, but — as any Marine will tell you — never stopped being a Marine.
He used the same mentality he had in the service to become an athlete, learning to ride his bike, run and row.
Shortly after being released from rehabilitation, he moved to Florida and began training to compete in rowing in the Paralympics.
“It’s something I kind of fell into,” he said. “Marines have to walk in the desert for two weeks straight. They have to drink well water and feel sick, but still fight. So I was still going to push myself with that same mentality.”
Jones and his rowing partner Oksana Masters, who also has both legs amputated, went on to win a bronze medal at the 2012 Paralympics.
After that accomplishment, Jones decided he wanted to use his athleticism to support other wounded veterans.
He picked the lofty goal of raising $1 million dollars for three veterans nonprofits: Salute America’s Heroes, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and Ride 2 Recovery.
“I just picked a big number to be honest with you,” Jones said. “I thought if I could manage to raise a million, that could do a lot of good.”
He called the project Rob Jones Journey, and began in October 2013 by riding his bike some 5,180 miles across the country, often in the rain and snow.
The trip took 181 days and raised $126,000.
31 marathons. But Jones still wasn’t at his $1 million goal, so for the past year and a half he’s been training and planning for phase two: 31 marathons in 31 days.
The planning has taken advantage of Jones’ military efficiency, with each run carefully plotted around a “base camp” in each city and a detailed itinerary to complete his mission.
His wife, Pamela Relph, a Paralympics two-time gold medalist, and his mother, Carol Wire, are accompanying him on his endeavor.
And in each city, people have come to run with the veteran.
“So many people have come out,” Jones said Wednesday after his seventh marathon. “They’re supporting me, but they’re also supporting all veterans.”
As of Oct. 18, Jones’ marathons had raised about $65,000. Along with the funds from his 2013 bike ride, Jones has raised $191,000 out of his $1 million goal.
Jones’ month of marathons will end on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the National Mall in Washington.
To find out more or to donate, visit www.robjonesjourney.com.