2018 Awards

Rob Jones

Jackson Ryan

ROB JONES JOURNEY

I grew up on a farm in the small town of Lovettsville, Virginia. I graduated from Loudoun Valley High School in 2003, and from Virginia Tech in 2007. In my junior year at Virginia Tech, I joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a combat engineer at Bravo Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoke, VA. In the Marine Corps, combat engineers are responsible for a multitude of disciplines but the primary role that I and my fellow combat engineers undertook was the use of explosives, and the detection of buried IEDs and weapons caches.

I deployed to Habbaniyah, Iraq in 2008, and again to Delaram/Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010. During my deployment to Afghanistan while operating as a part of a push into Taliban territory, I was tasked with clearing an area with a high likelihood of containing an IED. It was in this capacity that I was wounded in action by a land mine. The injury resulted in a left knee dis-articulation and a right above knee amputation of my legs.

I was taken to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD for the initial phases of my recovery, which consisted primarily of healing and closing my wounds. I was then transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the remainder of my rehabilitation. At Walter Reed I was fitted with prosthetics, and worked very hard to learn how to walk with two bionic knees. I also used the time to relearn how to do other things with my new challenge including riding a bicycle, running, and rowing. I took naturally to rowing, and since I am always in search of a challenge that I can use to become better, I decided to train for the 2012 Paralympics.

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in December, 2011, I immediately moved to Florida to train with my rowing partner, Oksana. We spent five months there, and during that time period won the trunk and arms mixed double sculls trial race held by USRowing to become the USRowing national team for our boat class, and also won the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade to qualify for the Paralympics. We then moved to Charlottesville, Virginia to continue training until the Paralympics in September, 2012. Our hard work paid off for us as we brought home a bronze medal in our event. I continued in the sport of rowing through the 2013 season, where my partner and I placed 4th in the 2013 World Rowing Championships.

On October 14, 2013 I began a solo supported bike ride across America which started in Bar Harbor, Maine, and ended in Camp Pendleton, California. The ride was 5,180 miles long and completed on April 13, 2014, a total of 181 days after it began. Over the course of the ride, along with my team, I raised $126,000 for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and Ride 2 Recovery, three charities which aid wounded veterans.

Between Fall 2014, and Summer 2016, I trained in the sport of triathlon with the intention to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games. I saw considerable personal improvement, but was unable to qualify.

Currently I am planning to complete a month long back to back marathon challenge in which I will run 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different major cities, once again raising awareness and funds for wounded veteran charities.

Jackson Ryan- high school pitcher excelling in baseball and life with cerebral palsy

Jackson Ryan does not let cerebral palsy define him. He loves to play football, basketball and pitching for his high school baseball team.

Jackson is no ordinary high school baseball player. The senior’s grandfather is Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan. His father, Reid Ryan, is president of the Houston Astros.

Jackson is a reliever for the TAPPS 4A defending state champion Eagles, coached by six-time MLB All-Star Lance Berkman and assisted by five-time World Series champion pitcher Andy Pettitte. When the 6-foot, 145-pounder takes the mound he carries a rich legacy and big expectations.

But it hasn’t been all baseball celebrity and smooth sailing for Jackson. Life dealt him a bit of a curveball at birth. “We learned Jackson had cerebral palsy on the day he was born, which affected the muscle tone and posture on the right side of his body,” Reid said. “The doctor told us he may never walk or talk and gave us a list of potential problems. It was a tough time. Your mind goes to the worst possibilities. We didn’t know what to expect.”

The resilient Jackson has refused to let the disability determine his future. He has powered through years of physical therapy to play the game he loves — and has never quit. The 17-year-old lefty lacks fine motor skills in his right hand and wears a special velcro strip on that side that attaches to another piece on the inside of his glove. After Jackson releases the ball from his left hand, he pulls the velcro apart and immediately puts his left hand in the glove during the follow-through to protect himself. He essentially throws and catches with the same hand and executes his legendary grandfather’s most important lesson.

“I’ve always told him to throw strikes,” Nolan said.

In 2017, Jackson has logged 66 strikes, nine strikeouts and holds a 1-0 record with a 4.94 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched for the 24-9-1 Eagles this season. He has mastered the art of being a one-armed pitcher.

“I think of myself as a normal person and do the best I can to my abilities,” Jackson said. “I have a couple disadvantages, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to go with it.”

His abilities have an effect on those around him. I think he inspires a lot of people,” Reid said. “Whether it’s able-bodied kids on the team or younger kids who go to the games. It’s also motivating to the parents and kids with disabilities. He’s never let his disability hold him back. He’s doing all this with one hand, so what can others complain about? Numerous kids with cerebral palsy have approached us throughout the years and told us he inspired them. Jackson pushes me, and he doesn’t even know it.”

His former World Series champion head coach recognizes a winner when he sees one.

“The fact that he’s able to do as much as he is with his disability is incredible,” Berkman said. “More than that is his mindset and approach to life. He shows up and is ready to go every day. He’s got that determination and laser focus. You just see it all over him when he’s on the mound, this is what he’s all about. He’ll run through a brick wall before he’ll quit. This is what it means to face a difficult challenge head on and not making any excuses. Don’t look for an easy way out, work and overcome the obstacles that you’ll face in your life.”

Jackson simply knows no limits.

“Don’t put any limitations on yourself,” Jackson said. “Do what you want to do and go for it.”