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100 Days to the 2012 Paralympics

May 21, 2012

The Will to Do More Than Just Survive

The first explosion was not enough to do damage. It was just a blasting cap, buried in the path of a team of U.S. Marines pushing into Taliban held territory in Sangin, Afghanistan.

But the detonation was enough to alert the platoon of Marines that they were walking in a minefield and it was Sgt. Rob Jones’ job to use his metal detector to find a clear way through.

“We were kind of skirting around this line of vehicles that was in our path and someone else had stepped on something that didn’t really go off,” Jones said. “It was what we call a low-order detonation. It was just a blasting cap, so it was really small, nobody got hurt and my job when that happens is to use my metal detector and clear a path, because they bury more than one in the ground.”

Jones found the second one immediately – the hard way.

He is still not sure if it was a mine or an Improvised Explosive Device detonated from afar, but when he woke up, he knew he was badly injured.

“Pretty much, people were putting tourniquets on both my legs and eventually a corpsman got there and gave me some morphine. Then they put me on a tank and the tank took me to a helicopter.”

That was July 22, 2010. The blast took both of Jones’ legs and he was transported back to the military rehabilitation hospital in Bethesda, Md. His second day in rehab, Jones strapped on his prosthetic legs and started to learn to walk.

Fast-forward to May 5, 2012 and the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade, Serbia. Jones and Oksana Masters, herself a bilateral amputee, had won the Non-Qualified Paralympic Trials in March to get there.

From start to finish they led the trunk and arms double sculls final, and in doing so, earned the right to represent the United States in the event that will begin just 100 days from now at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Aug. 31- Sept. 2.

The United States will send three boats into competition there – the men’s arms and shoulders single sculls, the trunk and arms double sculls and the legs, trunk and arms mixed four.
“We did about as well as we were expecting and it was a great relief for both of us,” Jones said of both winning and qualifying the boat in Serbia. “There was a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves to qualify and a lot of work that we put into it. We wanted to keep going and make all that worthwhile.”

“It was a great relief and it was a great relief for Oksana, because this is something she has been going after for a long time.”

For Jones and Masters, it was much more than a relief or a gold medal. It was demonstration of how far the determination of two people could take them.

Masters was born in Russia near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that blew up and spread radiation poison for hundreds of miles in every direction. She was born badly deformed and was abandoned by her birth parents to an orphanage where other deformed children not wanted by their families were sent and she was horribly beaten and abused there.

When she was eight, she was adopted and brought to America, but she eventually lost both her legs as a result of her deformities. In high school, she was introduced to adaptive rowing and the Paralympic Games have been a goal ever since.

Masters competed in the 2011 World Championships Trials, but lost. She went home in search of a different sculling partner.

Meanwhile, after fighting hard and long, Jones, now 26, got through his rehabilitation and became an inspiration to others in the hospital. During his time he worked with a high school friend to produce a documentary of his recovery titled, “Survive. Recover. Live. The Rob Jones Story.”

And then he went in search of a sport. He remembered that when he was able bodied that he had used a rowing machine in a gym and that, “I just remembered that it was pretty difficult.

“So I thought I would look into that, rowing on the water,” Jones said. “And it just happened that there was adaptive rowing in the D.C. area, which was where I was. So I emailed them and asked if I could come out.”

That was April, 2011.

“I took to it pretty naturally, I guess,” said Jones. He said his coach knew Masters’ coach and he contacted them to see if they were interested in trying a double. They were.

“The first day we were both in singles and the next day we borrowed a double. I didn’t really know much about rowing at the time, but our two coaches thought that we looked like we would work well together.”

They trained sporadically and they raced in the Bayada Regatta and finished second to the team of Anthony Davis and Jacqui Kapinowski, the crew that had won trials and was preparing to race at the world championships in Bled, Slovenia.

They continued training together when they could, and next raced at the Head of the Charles, again finishing second to Davis and Kapinowski.

Despite the losses they felt, they were making improvements and getting faster and decided to move to Orlando, Fla. to train full time. And now, having won trials and qualifying in Serbia, they are looking toward London.

“I’m not nervous or anything like that,” Jones said. “I think we’re going to do really well just based on the progress we made down in Florida. We went from a five-minute thousand when we first started, down to four minutes, five seconds in Serbia. I’m really excited.”

Click below to view “Survive. Recover. Live. The Rob Jones Story.”

Ed Moran

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