Wounded Warriors at Paralympics


Veterans have played a public role in these games from the Opening Ceremony. Joe Townsend, a British marine commando who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, carried the Paralympic torch into the stadium down a zip wire. That echoes the origins of the Paralympics, which started in Britain in 1948. Then, a Jewish doctor named Ludwig Guttmann, who fled Nazi Germany, tried to inspire patients with spinal injuries by giving them a chance to compete in sports. The "Stoke Mandeville Games," named for the hospital where he worked, mostly featured veterans injured during World War Two.

Five decades later, more than 4,200 Paralympians have descended on London to compete in the largest-ever games.

Jones was knocked unconscious for about 15-20 seconds after the blast. Otherwise, he remembers every moment of that day two years ago.

He had deployed to Iraq in 2008, but didn't see much combat. When his Afghanistan deployment started, it was mostly quiet until he and his unit moved into Delaram and Sangin, two districts in Helmand that have been among the deadliest areas of the country since the war began.

As part of President Obama's surge into southern Afghanistan, he and his unit began pushing farther than any other American unit had. Most days would start with bullets and mortars targeting their base. They would push forward. The Taliban would push back.

One day, he walked alongside a row of armored vehicles as they cleared the road of IEDs. A colleague set off a small explosion. Nobody was hurt, but it fell on Jones to lead the team through what they feared was a minefield.

He was the most vulnerable marine, at the front of the line, only a metal detector and his eyes to protect him from buried bombs.

"And then something found me."

He remembers "tunnel vision" and a disconnect between his brain and body. "My body was reacting to my legs being severed, but my mind wasn't able to tell it to scream or get it under control," he says. "I knew my legs were messed up, so I didn't even look down there."

Tourniquets, morphine, a cloud of dust. A medivac helicopter evacuated him. His route to recovery took him through Kandahar, then Germany, then Walter Reed. Then, a river outside of Washington, D.C. Then the Eton Dorney lake in England, surrounded by people representing their countries – without military uniforms. His story was documented in a film by a friend, Ivan Kander. It's called Survive. Recover. Live. The Rob Jones Story.

What's next? He says he hopes he can plan a bike trip around the world. He says he's "too busy" to feel sorry for himself, or to stop moving.

"I don't see the point. Wallowing in self-pity isn't going to get you anywhere. What's the point in treading water, so to speak," he said today. "I like to make progress."

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