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Hobbled By COVID And Untethered By College, Student Pivots To Ketchum’s Limelight

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Heidi Jones
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Rowan Jones' dreams for 2021 included studying on the other side of the planet, but COVID-19 dashed any hope of attending NYU Shanghai in-person. From his Arlington, Virginia home, he tried, in the middle of the night, syncing with his professors via virtual instruction, but that was a bit of a non-starter as well. And his path got a lot bumpier when he contracted COVID-19 — he was in Ketchum, Idaho at the time, helping an aunt move to the Gem State.But Rowan's unlikely journey had only begun. Now, he calls Idaho his home-away-from-home, and the people at Ketchum's Limelight Hotel who helped nurse him back to health are now his co-workers.

Rowan and his mother Heidi (joining the conversation from Virginia) visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about COVID-19, life lessons and the mysterious man Rowan once knew as "John from downstairs" who is now his boss.

“The people there really became second family when my mom came out to visit. She cried when she met 'John from downstairs.'”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News, I'm George Prentice. Good morning. The journey of Rowan Jones is not unlike a lot of other young Americans with an eye to the future: He had big plans for college. He was on his way to achieving some of his dreams. And then… well, then the pandemic hit. But that's where the journey of Rowan Jones is, unlike anyone else's. Rowan joins us live this morning.

ROWAN JONES: Good morning.

PRENTICE: OK, I've got a limited amount of time to tell a considerable story, so let me see if I can get this straight: You get accepted to NYU, Shanghai with the dream of studying in China, but you're living in your hometown of Arlington, Virginia. The pandemic forces you to take classes online. So, there you are in the middle of the night - because your instructors are on the other side of the planet. Your mom says, “Hey, why don't you go help your aunt move to Sun Valley, Idaho? Maybe you'll get some sunshine and a couple of more hours in your favor.”  And then you get COVID. And thanks to the good graces of the people at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, you quarantine… You get better. You go back to Virginia, and then one day... you tell your mom... what?

ROWAN: So, I was speaking to my mom and I'd spoken to the man who I called “John from downstairs,” because I didn't know him as anything else, about a job at the Limelight. And I was offered a job roughly two to three weeks after I got home and I said, “Mom, I'm going to take this job.” And she said, “Go for it.”

PRENTICE: Well, I have to take advantage of the opportunity to bring your mom in. So, joining us from Arlington, Virginia is your mom, Heidi Jones. Heidi, good morning.

HEIDI JONES: Good morning.

PRENTICE: OK, so he tells you “I'm actually going to go back to this place where I had COVID,”. and you thought what?

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Credit Courtesy Limelight Hotel
Limelight Hotel, Ketchum, Idaho

HEIDI: I thought anytime… and the time of when I've been alive, you can pivot and feel good about it. It is now. And, you know, you need to do what makes you feel good. You know, it's such a great experience. I mean, I think that he was telling that he was more happy in the Limelight than he had been in the eight months prior, having graduated from high school and taking online classes in the basement. So, I said, “Go for it,”

PRENTICE: Rowan, tell me about the Limelight. I'm guessing it's your home away from home.

ROWAN: Yeah, it really is. Not only did they give me incredible service… and I mean, I don't want to sound like an advertisement for them, but our experience there - me and my friend - we were both quarantined together was incredible. You know, the people there really became second family when my mom came out to visit. She cried when she met “John from downstairs.”

PRENTICE: “John from downstairs.” By the way, by the way, does John have a last name?

ROWAN: That's a good question.

HEIDI: John Curnow.

PRENTICE: Of course, your mom knows his name. OK, Rowan, what's the big dream for you someday? What do you want to do?

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Credit Heidi Jones
The Jones family (Rowan on the far left)

ROWAN: I would actually like to get into politics. I'd like to go study Poli-Sci with a minor in Philosophy.

PRENTICE: I'm a little breathless right now…In the wake of what we have gone through politically…Did that inspire you to want to get into politics and do something right?

ROWAN: That's actually a really interesting question. It had always been something that I had wanted to do. And when it came time to finally make a decision on what it was where I would go in the world, it always seemed like I would be letting myself down if I didn't do it. It was always a dream of mine..

PRENTICE: Heidi….and Rowan, you can listen or not listen to this. Heidi, tell me about this young man.

HEIDI: He is extraordinary. I have two extraordinary kids. I would say Rowan has always felt like, to me, that he's lived a long time before I got to be his mom. He's always been so interesting and had so many different interests. And, you know, when we found the program at NYU Shanghai, that seemed like such a right fit. And he was so excited. So, yeah, I mean, he's just an interesting kid. I mean, I love talking to Rowen. I'm excited to see his future.

PRENTICE: Well, can you forgive the folks in Ketchum if they take a little bit of pride in claiming just a little bit of Rowan as their own?

HEIDI: Only if I get to come back

PRENTICE: Rowan, how are you acclimating?

ROWAN: It was a little strange because everybody knew me before I showed up. Most of the people had some idea about me, but for the most part it was pretty top secret.

PRENTICE: So, I'm trying to imagine this: We're meals just brought to your door while you were convalescing?

ROWAN: Basically we would give them a grocery list, which was very sparse and very college-like…so Vanilla Wafers, beef jerky, Pop Tarts, stuff like that. But they were they were so kind to us.

PRENTICE: Well, Arlington, Virginia is certainly interesting because, goodness knows, how close it is to our nation's capital. Heidi, I'm guessing you've heard a bit about how interesting Idaho is politically?

HEIDI: Oh yes.

PRENTICE: And Rowan, for you to want to be in politics while you're in Idaho is fascinating…because there are so many people who want nothing to do with it.

ROWAN: Yeah. And I felt like all the things that it brought a little bit of balance when I looked at politics.

PRENTICE: Rowan, I have to assume that you still have your eye on your passport and going to Shanghai someday.

ROWAN: I'm starting to think that the world has changed, to be quite honest. A lot has happened over COVID. there was a point where some of our students were being allowed to go over… and hearing their experiences and hearing some of the more outlandish ones…mind you… those people won't be back for the next six months or so. Until COVID really disappears, or rather the world adapts, I'm not sure I'm really prepared to do that,

PRENTICE: Heidi. I'm guessing that's music to your ears. Is that because he wants to stay put, maybe a little while?

HEIDI: You know, we're a family of travelers, ,so we really enjoy traveling. So I hear what he's saying. But it'll be interesting to see how that that really transpires. I mean, I think we are all really looking forward to experiencing Shanghai, so, I'm sure it'll be on our list at some point.

PRENTICE: Well, all of us have to get a lot smarter real fast for that to happen. She is Heidi Jones and he is Rowan Jones… mom and son, thousands of miles apart from one another. But this morning, they're together on Morning Edition. Thank you so very much. Safe journey to you and take care.

HEIDI: Thank you. Our pleasure.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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