Sgt. Rob Jones looked down his body, past the hospital gown, his eyes resting on the stumps where his legs should have been. The marine engineer lay in a hospital bed at Walter Reed, a few days after he stepped on an IED in Helmand, Afghanistan, and doctors had just performed a double amputation.
Jones' first response was not self-pity or doubt. His mind rested on the one thing he had found most difficult before his injury. Rowing. He would become a competitive rower.
"I'm the type of person that likes to challenge myself and I like to do the hardest thing possible," Jones told ABC News. "Facing challenges and overcoming challenges is what makes you grow as a person."
This morning, two years later, Jones' oar cut through the cold waters at Eton Dorney in southern England. The 26-year-old is now a paralympian. He and his partner, Oksana Masters, call themselves "Bad Company." They finished second in their heat with a personal best and what would have been a world record – had the Chinese team not bettered them. Not good enough, he said. But good enough to keep their gold medal hopes alive this weekend.
"I'm just treating it like any other race," he says, matter-of-factly.
But it's not just another race. Not only because he and Masters have trained six days per week, as many as four hours per day, for most of the last year. Not only because he had never rowed in a proper scull before his injury. For Jones, this is about proving he can do anything without legs. Proving he can overcome the most formidable challenge he can think of.
"I wanted to get back up and moving around as fast as I could," he said by phone today after the race. "I hated being in a wheelchair, I hated being looked after. I hated being… as helpless as I've ever been. I wanted to remedy that as fast as I could."
The Paralympics is filled with amazing stories of athletes who have overcome so much. And more than ever before, it's filled with the stories of veterans. On the United States team, nearly 1 out of 10 athletes are current of former service members – far more than any previous Paralympics.
Three of those are still active duty, including Navy Lt. Brad Snyder. A year ago, the EOD tech was on his hands and knees in Afghanistan, diffusing bombs. One of got to him first. It blew off his protective glasses and the heat burned through his eyes. He is now permanently blind.
Unlike Jones, Snyder has chosen to embrace what he once knew. Swimming. He is competing in seven events, from the 50-meter freestyle to the 200-meter individual medley. He will race on the one year anniversary of his accident.
"I'm a huge advocate for the idea of wounded warriors getting back into sport," Snyder told the American Forces Press Service. "It gives you that feeling of relevance and that feeling of success again. And again, it's not relegated to just sports. It trickled down to other avenues of life."