ELLSWORTH, Maine — Rob Jones, 28, looked unstable on his bike as he pedaled up a hill on Route 1 on his way out of town. He’d been riding off and on for about five hours and one of his prosthetic feet kept clicking out of place. He knew this was something he’d have to address eventually if he is going to finish his 5,400-mile ride from Bar Harbor to San Diego.
The problem pales in comparison to the other obstacles Jones overcame to get here. It took him nine months to learn how to ride this bike after he lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2010. He had been serving as a combat engineer in the Marine Corps when he was wounded by an improvised explosive device.
Simply learning to ride the bike was not enough. He’s now on day one of a six-month ride that will take him from Maine to Virginia, where he’s from, and then on to California. He hopes his ride will bring attention to his effort to raise $1 million for three charities that support wounded veterans: the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Semper Fi Fund and Ride 2 Recovery.
When Jones was in the hospital recovering from his injuries, he was told that double above-the-knee amputees did not get back on regular bikes.
“I took that as kind of a challenge being issued to me,” he said.
At first, Jones could only pedal backward with his prosthetic legs. Then, with help, he figured out a way to lock his knees so they could bend only up to 90 degrees and he could pedal forward.
Now, the hardest part is getting on and off the bike, so he tries to stop as little as possible.
Jones is not alone on his trip. His 17-year-old brother, Steve Miller, who just graduated from high school, will follow him the whole way in a white box truck. Jones bought the truck in preparation for this trip and outfitted it with two cots, sleeping bags, a portable toilet, some food and more than 30 gallons of water.
Miller did not take much convincing to help Jones.
“My brother was just like, ‘I need someone to drive the truck,’ and I was like, “All right, just let me know,’” he said.
He added with a smile: “I’m really proud of him.”
Miller was 14 when his brother was injured. He said that though it was stressful for his family, Jones never let his injuries bring him down.
“From the moment he showed up in America, he was like, ‘All right, what are we going to do now?’” Miller said of his brother.
What Jones has done is more than most people with two legs ever accomplish. Not only did he bike, he also learned to row with his prosthetic legs and qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where he won a bronze medal. He has competed in multiple running races and triathlons.
Jones received a Purple Heart and was honorably discharged in 2011, according to a news release about his trip. He was also one of 30 veterans selected this year to be recognized at Major League Baseball’s all-star game in July.
For Jones, this challenge is as much about testing himself as it is about giving back to those who helped him get to where he is now.
“I am committed to giving back to the charitable organizations that were there for me in my darkest hours,” he said in the release.
Jones is accepting donations on his website, which he will also update periodically so viewers can track his progress.
“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,” he said of the organizations for which he is fundraising. “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.”
According to his website, Jones has raised $15,085, though he said he needs to update it to include the several thousand more he has received in the past few days.
As Jones reached the top of the hill in Ellsworth on Monday afternoon, he seemed to hit his stride and he continued on to Surry, with his brother trailing close behind.