Friday, August 24, 2012
Standing up for kids
Circumnavigating the 500-mile shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake by paddleboard is a relatively tame feat for extreme athlete Tom Jones.
The kick-boxing titlist has paddleboarded the coastline of California, had run-ins with alligators and said he once ran 121 consecutive marathons in as many days.
As a child, Jones testified in court against his physically abusive father, and he spent years suffering sexual abuse at the hands of house parents entrusted with his care at a children's home, he said.
Jones travels across the country performing athletic feats as a way of drawing attention to a variety of causes. As a way to help prevent Internet crimes against children, the 49-year-old former Marine and world record-holder has partnered with Safe Surfin' Foundation, a nonprofit spearheaded by Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown.
Jones is traveling the coastline of Smith Mountain Lake by paddleboard, averaging 20 miles a day to raise money and awareness for Safe Surfin', as well as his own organization, the Tom Jones Foundation, which advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children.
His journey, which began Aug. 6, is scheduled to conclude at the 2012 Beach Bash on Saturday at Parkway Marina in Huddleston.
"If someone steals your car, you're going to be inconvenienced, probably upset and financially impacted, but life will go on," said reserve Lt. Tony Martin of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office. "But for victims of crimes like this against a child, it has a permanent effect on a child's life, and a family, as well."
There are 88 million children in the United States on the Internet, and the primary way to protect them is education, Martin said.
To fulfill that mission, the Safe Surfin' Foundation has created age-specific CDs that teach children Internet safety. They are distributed to schools free of charge.
"The children need to learn, they don't know who they're talking to, and they need to keep their personal information to themself," said Martin.
Children's access to the Internet is analogous to giving a teenager keys to the family car without the benefit of driver's education, Martin said.
"Unfortunately, a lot of parents don't understand that. A parent buys a computer, or the school gives them a used one, and turns them loose."
There are no government or taxpayer funds to accommodate the educational mission of Safe Surfin', which relies on donations from individuals and corporations in addition to celebrity spokespeople such as Erik Estrada and Shaquille O'Neal. So far, Jones said he has raised about $12,000 for Safe Surfin' and his foundation during his time at Smith Mountain Lake.
He estimated that his foundation has raised and contributed a half million dollars to various causes since it was formed in 1998.
As a spokesperson, Jones completed the curriculum used by officers of Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, the Virginia task force that investigates Internet crimes against children.
"I took that upon myself, to become an expert in answering any questions," said Jones.
Following the training, Jones was involved in three operations that required posing as a child online to lure predators, "these monsters" Jones called them, to an undisclosed location and for their later arrest.
Law is reactive by nature, Martin said.
"We realized years ago that a child's life and a child's family, that lives are changed forever when a crime like this happens."
Jones, now a father of three, said his two sons are often waiting for him at the finish lines of his athletic events.
"I wasn't loved, I wasn't nurtured," said Jones. "So I try to provide that to my children."