“When I was a young kid, Cal Ripken, Jr. was my hero,” said Sgt. Rob Jones.
With Orioles-themed socks peeking out above his dress shoes, clearly Jones’ childhood loyalties have not wavered.
Jones fondly recalled how he and his little league teammates used to vie for who would wear the coveted #8. And now, at the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation’s 16th Annual Aspire Gala, Jones was honored by his childhood hero for his own valor and heroism. Though Jones has not won a World Series or set MLB records, Jones was recognized for another athletic feat: in 2017, he ran 31 marathons in 31 days, in 31 cities – as a paraplegic athlete.
During his deployment to Afghanistan as a Sargent of the U.S. Marine Corps, Jones was tasked with clearing an area which had a high likelihood of containing an IED. Consequently, wounded in action by a land mine, Jones underwent a left knee dis-articulation and an above knee amputation of both legs. Jones was fitted with prosthetics, and worked very hard to learn how to walk with two bionic knees. However, he did not allow this to stop him from reaching his goals. It was not long until Jones relearned how to ride a bicycle, run, and row, and eventually, train for the Paralympics.
Jones’ Paralympic career began with rowing in 2011, after being honorably discharged, he began to train with his rowing partner, Oksana Masters, and within five months, Jones and Masters won the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade, Serbia, qualifying them for the Paralympics. Jones’ success as a Paralympic rower did not stop there, in the 2012 Paralympics, Jones and Masters won the bronze medal, and in 2013, the pair placed 4th in the World Rowing Championships.
That same year, Jones’ athletic interests transitioned from rowing to biking, as he conducted a solo supported bike ride across America, from Maine to California, riding 5,180 miles in 181 days. Jones realized his athletic endeavors as a paraplegic athlete could be a means to raise awareness and support of veteran causes. He used his cross-country bike trip to raise $126,000 through his organization “Rob Jones Journey,” for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and Ride 2 Recovery -- charities which aid wounded veterans.
This was just the start of Jones’ philanthropic efforts. After completing the unbelievable feat of 31 marathons in 31 days, in 31 cities, “Rob Jones Journey” raised over $200,000 for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which led to his being honored with the Aspire Leadership Award at the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation’s 16th Annual Aspire Gala, along with World Golf Hall of Famer, Annika Sorenstam, and Baseball Hall of Fame Manager, Tony La Russa.
At the Aspire Gala, Jones gave a moving speech commemorating his award, wearing shorts that proudly displayed his tremendous sacrifice for his country. Standing beside his beloved #8, on stage stood two Iron Men – one of America’s pastime, one of America’s present time – both united by their commitment to using their athletic gifts as a means to serve others, and also of course, a love for all things black and orange.