In January 2014, in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record, my hotel in Springfield, Missouri got a call. It was from a police officer in New Hope, PA.
The officer said she was a volunteer, calling to ask if we would provide a complimentary room for a 28-year-old veteran, Rob Jones, who was biking across the country for military charities. I was skeptical at first.
However, my general manager said he’d heard about Rob on the radio, and he was the real deal.
We agreed to provide Rob and his 18-year-old brother Steve, who was traveling with him, a room for the following night.
Rob Jones: His Story
I started reading about Rob’s story and I was amazed. I learned that in 2010 Rob was a Marine sergeant in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb went off.
Both his legs had to be amputated above the knee. He eventually learned to walk again. Once he could walk, he wanted to ride an upright bike. He was told it wasn’t possible.
Then he met Zach Harvey who was able to design special prosthetic legs and Rob spent the next 9 months learning to ride.
Rob then decided he wanted to raise $1 million for the charities who helped him through his recovery by biking 5,200 miles across the country. Incredibly, he self-funded the trip.
Rob bought an old U-Haul box truck for his little brother to drive as a support vehicle behind him, and put two cots with sleeping bags in the back.
His dad updated a website about the journey. Rob started his 6-month trek in Bar Harbor, Maine and rode to San Diego, California.
Rob’s Motto Was “Survive, Recover, Live”
As you might imagine, the people he met along the way were drawn to do anything they could to help.
Tina, an attorney in New Jesery, started mapping which communities Rob would be riding through and sending press releases to news stations, schools and American Legion Posts a few days ahead.
She asked for media coverage, police escorts, and for people to come out and cheer Rob on as he rode.
In New Hope, PA, a police officer, Dawn, got Tina’s press release and provided an escort. It was snowing.
She asked where Rob was staying that night. When Rob said they would sleep in the back of the U-Haul, she jumped into action.
She called around until she found a B&B willing to provide a complimentary room for the night.
From then on, Dawn and Tina worked together each night to try to secure a warm bed for Rob to rest as temps dipped as low as 14 below zero. Dawn also coordinated police escorts when possible.
After learning all this, I wanted to not only provide a room for Rob, but a huge welcome party.
I only had a day to prepare, but I made a banner, got balloons, and sent out invitations to the news stations and the entire community through social media, asking everyone to come to the hotel and welcome Rob.
I told the hotel team to prepare for possibly hundreds of people in the hotel lobby. Well, sadly, at the appointed time, no one showed up.
I was so disappointed, but knew the invitation had only been out less than a day. Rob arrived and I told him to go get settled in his room and then come back to the lobby.
My general manager and I hurriedly gathered every hotel employee we could and brought them to the lobby.
By the time Rob came back down we had a group of about 30 gathered and a news station cameraman even showed up.
As I talked to Rob and Steve, I found the brothers to be humble. Maybe even a little embarrassed at all the attention.
We asked what else we could do or buy for him and Rob said all he wanted was for people to donate to the cause. Wow.
Joining the Rob Jones Team
From that day on, I was honored to join his small volunteer team. I reached out to Lee, a director at DoubleTree, who also jumped on board.
Tina, Dawn, Lee and I became four ladies, from four different states, committed to get Rob a comfortable bed every night and share his story with the nation.
Every day over the next four months, we flooded the media with press releases, and mapped his route for potential hotels.
We tried to plan several days to a week ahead. He rode 30-40 miles per day, but that could vary based on the weather and terrain so changes were constant.
I’m proud to say that every day of those 120 days, with the exception of just a handful, we were able to secure Rob and Steve a place to sleep.
I found many hotels, motels and B&B’s were generous, including Marriott’s, Holiday Inn’s and independents.
However, there were plenty of places, mostly small motels or B&Bs, who hung up on me and told me to never call again trying to scam them out of a free room.
There were several times when every lodging option in the area said no.
It was a challenge to secure lodging in the many small towns Rob rode through in Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
There were several times when every lodging option in the area said no. It seemed to happen on the coldest nights.
Then I’d hear the great news that anonymous angels, including Tina, had paid for rooms when a comp wasn’t available.
It was much easier once he reached California where there were Hilton hotels at nearly every stop. Every Hilton hotel (yes, every single one) we asked opened their doors and hearts to Rob.
I asked them to roll out the red carpet, and many had welcome receptions and helped him with anything he needed from a bike tune up to a hot meal.
During his trip, he stayed at over a dozen DoubleTree hotels, many of who had much better success than I did at throwing welcome parties (and more time to plan and promote them).
With the help of Lee Hambrick and Anne Thompson DoubleTree became Rob’s official corporate sponsor and DoubleTree hotels around the world held fundraisers.
The hotels did everything from bake sales, to car washes, to jean days to raise money for Rob’s cause.
Although more often than not we didn’t hear back from media, celebrities or businesses, there were a lot of successes.
Many times school children would line the streets to cheer him on, and dozens of people brought their bikes out and rode alongside Rob.
It took months, but we finally got our wish of a major news outlet covering the story when the Today Show featured Rob’s story.
Along with the many people who donated money or helped by tuning up Rob’s bike, O’Reilly Auto Parts donated a $500 gift card for U-Haul maintenance.
Crossing the Finish Line
In April, four months after I’d met Rob in Missouri, I flew out to San Diego to cheer him on as he crossed the finish line at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.
I was able to meet Rob’s parents and the ladies I’d been talking to every day. There were many celebrations, including Rob throwing out the first pitch at the Padres game, and a spectacular end-of-the-ride party at the Mission Valley DoubleTree.
Rob raised $126,000 for the veteran charities who helped him recover. I’m sharing all this now because Rob has a new goal.
I’m sharing all this now because Rob has a new goal.
Month of Marathons
Rob is now planning to run 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities. He is again raising awareness for veterans and is still working toward his $1 million goal for veteran charities.
It is truly incredible to me that for this man, giving his legs for our freedom was not enough. He continues to give to others, even when he has already paid a price most of us can’t even imagine.
I think I know where Rob gets his big heart. A couple years after the end of Rob’s ride I got a call from his dad, Lenny.
Lenny said they were coming to Missouri to visit family. I said, “Oh, that’s great. I’ll be happy to see if I can get a hotel discount for you.”
He laughed and said, “No, no, no, Dee. That’s not why I’m calling. We’re coming for Thanksgiving and I want to invite you to Thanksgiving with us.” What a great guy.
I’m excited to follow Rob on his new journey. Please follow him as well, and help him reach his goal.
I promise he will inspire you, just as he inspired me. Whatever challenge you are facing, use Rob’s motto to Survive, Recover, Live.
Please help my all-time favorite hotel guest, friend and American hero Rob Jones
- Follow Rob’s Journey on Instagram, Facebook ,Twitter or Rob Jones Journey Website
- Check the map to see if he’ll be at a city near you and go cheer him on or run with him! Rob Jones Month of Marathons Schedule
- Share Rob’s story with everyone you know
Here are a few videos about Rob: Bike Video Climb (narrated by Gary Sinise of Forrest Gump), Month of Marathons Promo Video
Author Bio: Dee King is a hotel sales director in Springfield, MO. She enjoys meeting people from around the world and making them feel welcome. She has been in the hotel sales industry for 9 years.