Justin Jones stares at his target, his bow in one hand, his arrow in the other. He zeros in, then he slings the arrow. And he’s transformed. His mind goes blank, and he finds peace.
Gone are the horrors of war. His pain is hidden. His ability far outweighs his disability.
Archery has become therapeutic for Jones, a corporal in the Marines with a bum leg and a weak shoulder, and it serves the same purpose during the Warrior Games, featuring more than 200 wounded, injured and ill service members and veterans from all five branches of the U.S. military competing this week at Air Force and the Olympic Training Center.
As a child, Jones, 24, of Ellijay, Ga., first shot a bow, and he hunted deer and turkey with his father, Tim. He never had entered an archery competition before he almost was killed in August in Afghanistan, struck by an improvised explosive device as he helped carry a wounded comrade to safety on a stretcher. Lance Cpl. Jeremy Vanhoose lost his left leg in the blast, and had the IED fully detonated, both Jones and Vanhoose might be dead.
“I have a lot of other buddies, and a lot of them are in worse shape than I am,” said Jones, who won the compound class Wednesday at Air Force, beating Fred Prince of the Army and Mark O’Brien of the Marines. In recurve, Dan Govier of the Marines was the winner.
Doctors have informed Jones that he’ll never run again because of the arthritic symptoms in his right leg, in which he broke his tibia and fibula and ripped apart his ankle. He often needs a cane when he walks, he can’t walk for more than 10 minutes at a time, and he has difficulty getting down stairs. He also suffered shrapnel injuries to his left leg, and his left arm has limited mobility due to muscle that was removed so his ankle could be rebuilt.
Simply elevating an arrow to eye level remains a “constant battle” for Jones, and his legs sometimes shake when he shoots, despite ongoing rehabilitation at a San Diego hospital. Marine coaches John Fuller and Darryl Woods have worked with Jones to refine his form – so much that Jones recorded a “Robin Hood” by splitting an arrow with another arrow.
“You start trying to do the things that you used to do,” said Jones, who will be medically retired from the Marines when he’s done with rehab. “Then you start appreciating all the things that you still can do, not the things that you can’t do anymore. You adapt to that, and you make the best of what you have left. It made me thankful. It made me stronger.”
Jones once feared his leg would be amputated because of relentless infections and a skin graft that failed. “It motivates you,” Jones said about participating in the Warrior Games. “There are guys missing both legs and maybe a hand or an arm. These guys are smiling. They’re happy. They’re pushing through it. … I’m still pretty much a whole man.”
As Jones grows more advanced in archery, he realizes that he forgets “about everything that’s going on,” he said. “You flush it out. Your only focus is you and the target.” Plus, Jones added, “It’s a good challenge. It keeps you competitive. It keeps that drive in you.”
WARRIOR GAMES SCHEDULE
Shooting, Olympic Shooting Center at the Olympic Training Center, 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Wheelchair basketball, Cadet Field House and Cadet Gym at Air Force, 5:30-7 p.m.
Sitting volleyball bronze-medal match, East Gym at Air Force, 7:30-9 p.m.
Track and field, outdoor track at Air Force, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wheelchair basketball bronze-medal game, Cadet Field House at Air Force, 3-5 p.m.
Sitting volleyball gold-medal match, Cadet Field House at Air Force, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Wheelchair basketball gold-medal game, Cadet Field House at Air Force, 8:30-10:30 p.m.
Swimming, natatorium at Air Force, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.