There are war stories, and there are love stories. Sometimes, they are one and the same.
In May, Taylor Morris stepped on an IED. He was serving in Afghanistan as part of the Navy's Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team. In many ways, his life changed forever that day -- he lost both of his legs, a hand, and the other arm up to the bicep.
But in many ways, Taylor's life is still the same. His family still jokes around with him. He still has his girlfriend Danielle by his side. He is strong, incredibly strong, and his story is just beginning.
'A ton of questions'
When news of Taylor's accident first reached his hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa, the community was devastated. Friends he had known since high school and beyond gathered together, wracking their brains for ideas to try and help Taylor's situation. One of these friends was Tim Dodd, a professional photographer. Tim and another friend visited Taylor at Walter Reed Medical Center outside of Washington, DC.
That meeting held a lot at stake. Taylor's family had been by his side for several weeks, but questions still lingered from concerned friends back home. "When we first heard Taylor was still here, you wonder, is he going to be brain dead?" Tim says. "Is he going to have really bad PTSD? Is who he is going to be altered?"
Thankfully, and against all odds, the answer was no. But there were still so mcuh to answer: What did the hospital look like? What was Taylor's life like now? What did he have to go through? On instinct, and with permission, Tim began documenting Taylor's recovery. "You don't want to pester," he says. "But I did know there was a need for additional information, imagery especially."
'Wow, you're made of something else'
During that first visit, Tim says Taylor's progress, and the sheer strength of his will, left him completely floored. When Tim visited Taylor a second time, it was clear Taylor had already set his own mental path for his recovery. One night, after a rigorous round of physical therapy, Taylor snuck back into the hospital's workout facility. Apparently, Taylor didn't think his therapy was rigorous enough. "His brother and I stuck his legs back on, and he walked around for an hour and a half," Tim says. "He felt like he got gypped, so he wanted to walk more ... that's the kind of stuff that's just like, 'Wow. You're made of something else. You're not taking this sitting down, literally'."
In a matter of months, Taylor made unbelievable strides in his recovery. Tim says the doctors at Walter Reed were beyond impressed.
'What every relationship should be like'
Then of course, there is the love story. Tim says, and Taylor will definitely agree, that a large part of Taylor's incredible progress is due to the unwavering support of his longtime partner Danielle. After learning of Taylor's accident, Danielle quit a job she had held for just a few days to be by Taylor's side. She has been there ever since. "She doesn't even blink an eye," Tim says. "She didn't question anything ... that's one of those things we can all take a little bit from."
She accompanies Taylor to his appointments, and pushes him to do things for himself, to be stronger, to work harder. And, like any good relationship, he sometimes pushes back. "They have the same determination," says Tim. "It's not one or the other, there's no question. They just go for it. They just push each other really hard."
In some of Tim's pictures, Danielle is carrying Taylor on her back. They are like any other beautiful couple -- with just a few limbs missing. "That's what every relationship should be like," Tim says. "You wish that upon every single person, that you could go through one of the worst things that could happen to anyone, and have your partner unquestionably support you."
'They were screaming and cheering and waving flags ... absolutely unreal'
At the end of August, Taylor was planning to come home to Iowa to attend a friend's wedding. It would be the first time his community would get to see him since the accident. His friends knew the people of Cedar Falls were dying to see their hero, but Taylor is nothing if not a humble man. So they decided to put together a parade.
"It spread like wildfire and everyone got on board," Tim says. "The fire department, the police department, the National Guard, the Freedom Riders, the Flag Guard, all of these different people just lined up." The parade route stretched the full three and a half miles from the airport to the center of town, and every part of it was crowded with people, waving banners, waving flags, climbing on to benches, cheering, crying, all to welcome a hero home.
'The best is still yet to come'
Despite how far Taylor has come, there is a long road ahead, and a lifetime of challenges to face. But he is alive, and it is a victory Taylor gets to live every day. "None of us are really fully aware of the extent of injuries due to war," Tim says. "There's no need to get into politics, but to be at Walter Reed and see thousands of injured soldiers come in, you don't hear about it often."
But advances in technology assure that more soldiers are coming back alive. They are injured, yes, sometimes in life-altering ways, but they are alive. "It's a horrible thing, but at the same time, people are surviving." Tim says.
To Tim, Taylor best embodies a phrase we all have drilled into our heads time after time, but may never fully understand: Don't take this day for granted. Taylor may be missing limbs, he may be one of the wounded, like so many thousands before him, and sadly, so many thousands after, but he is also a victory, of life, and unconditional, unquestioning love.
"I hope people read this and are inspired," Tim says. "To know there are people out there that are just made out of a different cloth. That are superhumans."
"I can't even describe what I think Taylor is capable of, what he's going to do still. He's done some unreal things in the last few months, but the best is still yet to come."
To read more of Taylor's story, and see more pictures of his journey, visit Tim Dodd Photography: Taylor Morris