Iraq, Afghanistan veterans make mark at paralympics in London
On a placid summer morning last month, before the Virginia heat could hit them, a former U.S. Marine and his partner lifted their rowing scull into the glassy water of the Rivanna River, near Charlottesville.
“First thing I do is take these legs off,” said Rob Jones, who like his rowing partner, Oksana Masters, is a double, above-the-knee amputee. They’re the U.S. team for mixed-doubles rowing at the 2012 London Paralympics, which started Wednesday.
They sit, take off their legs on the dock, balance on their torsos, lift, twist and gently drop the boat in. Then they put on special rowing legs and start a grueling workout.
Masters was born with deformed legs, later amputated. She’s been rowing since she was 13. But Jones is a newcomer to rowing. Just two years ago, he lost both legs to a bomb blast when he was in Afghanistan with the Marines. Recovering in the hospital, he immediately began thinking about sports.
“I wanted to compete,” he said. “When I compete, I do it to win. I wanted to get as high up the ladder as I could, and I really don’t think there’s anything higher than the Paralympics. So I set my goals high and went after it.”
Hundreds of troops have lost their limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan; now as veterans, they’re making their mark at the Paralympics. They account for about 10 percent of the U.S. team in London this week. The Pentagon is driving new innovation in prosthetics with money and research; Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, led the U.S. delegation to the London Games this week.