First Person: Why One Hotel Guest Didn’t Have to Pay a Dime

Wounded veteran Rob Jones biked 5,200 miles to raise money for the charities that helped him. Here's how hotels across America came together to make that dream come true.

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Veteran Rob Jones and his brother, Steve, in Springfield, MO.
Veteran Rob Jones and his brother, Steve, in Springfield, MO.

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 Jones 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.
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.

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.

Dawn, a police officer in New Hope, PA, helped Rob with securing rooms and police escorts when possible.
Dawn, a police officer in New Hope, PA, helped Rob with securing rooms and police escorts when possible.

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.

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