Rob Jones finds new identity in rowing

By Cassie Gage | Dec. 03, 2012, 11:25 a.m. (ET)
 Oksana Masters and Rob Jones
Oksana Masters and Rob Jones won the United States' first medal in mixed double sculls, a bronze at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Rob Jones started rowing in as part of his rehabilitation after losing both legs in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Afghanistan in July 2010. The journey for the bilateral above knee amputee is still in its infancy but Jones is already making a name for himself in the Paralympic community.

In September, he and partner Oksana Masters became the first Americans to win a medal in the mixed double sculls at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

For his efforts, Jones was recognized as USRowing’s Man of the Year on Dec. 1 at the organization's national convention in Oklahoma City. The award is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to men’s rowing or to an outstanding man in rowing.

“I feel like I’m getting all the credit for a lot of the work other people have done,” Jones said. “It’s a privilege and I just plan on living up to the name.”

Jones, a Virginia Tech graduate, arrived to the event sporting University of Virginia polo. The Cavaliers rowing program has meant a lot to him and his partner in their quest to make it to the Paralympic Games.

“Virginia has helped me out so much by letting Oksana and I train there for free and helping us out with our boat and everything,” he said. “They let me come back so I thought since this is a rowing event, I’d wear their shirt.”

Jones spent the first half of 2011 adjusting to life with prosthetics. He started rowing three months into his rehabilitation and in addition to rowing, started training for two triathlons. His only previous experience with rowing was on the rowing machine at a gym.

Jones was accustomed to being in great shape as a combat engineer in the U.S. Marines. After losing his legs, he worried about not being able to work out. Rowing helped change that.

One of the first big challenges after his injury were the Nations Olympic Distance Triathlon in Washington D.C., and the CFI Mini Triathlon. Then came the qualification process for the Paralympic Games.

“It’s always fun to participate in other sports,” Jones said of competing in the triathlons. “I always liked cycling before I was injured. I wasn't as in to running and swimming but they’re fun. Those two races were my first big sports challenges after my injury. I succeeded in them, and that was a big step for me to get out there and challenge myself and succeed at it.”

Jones took his competitive spirit to the next level with rowing. He joined with Masters and the two, who dubbed themselves “Bad Company”, went on to win the U.S. Paralympic Trials - Rowing race in March 2012. 

The U.S. had yet to qualify a mixed double sculls boat for the Games so the duo got the chance to do that in Serbia where they won the event. What the duo did in London was a first for the Americans in the event and something Jones is extremely happy to be a part of.

“It was really satisfying to make good on all the work we had been doing – all the help we’d gotten,” he said. “I’m happy about winning bronze, but I’m not quite satisfied because there’s two more places we could move up.”

Jones has not decided if he will try to compete at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games. His next event is the world championships and then he has plans to bike across the country.

When looking back on what he has done in his brief rowing career, Jones carries a positive spirit, reflective of his military background. 

He also has aspirations to become a stand-up comedian one day. For now, he will continue training and may take part in a few open mic nights around the Washington, D.C., area.

“I just tell people I think anybody could've done (what I've done),” he said. “I just happen to come along at the perfect time. I saw guys in the hospital every day that were just as positive as I was and working just as hard as I was. It’s not totally a unique experience to me, but I guess I didn't have a choice but to move on. It wasn't a difficult decision for me.”

Cassie Gage is a freelance contributor for This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.