For those of you who don’t know Taylor’s story, I suggest you get caught up by reading about my first time visiting Taylor. It starts at the beginning of his journey and will get you caught up.
It had been just over two months since I last saw my friend Taylor Morris. Although when I came home I was inspired more than ever, had all the faith in the world that he’d succeed, and knew he would remain determined, I still had a moment of pity. I realized just how much work he still had to do to gain any sense of normalcy. What I forgot about Taylor is that he is very, very sneaky.
On the morning of August 16th, Taylor’s younger brother Riley and I left our hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to make the 15 hour drive to Washington, DC. We arrived at Walter Reed Medical Academy sometime after midnight and went straight to bed so we would be well rested to see Taylor in the morning. To my surprise, we were up early and beat Taylor down to his morning appointment in physical therapy. 99% of the time where you find Taylor, you find his girlfriend, Danielle. But when Riley and I first met up with Taylor, Danielle was back home to be with her family for a week. We would be picking her up the next day from the airport.
We gave Taylor huge hugs and were so delighted to see him greet us with a full and genuine smile. Although he took his wheelchair from his apartment to the physical therapy building, he brought all of his limbs with him in a bag dragging behind the wheelchair. I don’t know if he saw his physical therapy time as an opportunity to show off or not, but I’ll tell yah what, he showed off!!! :) He put his limbs together and on all by himself, then managed to stand up completely on his own. This is even more amazing considering Taylor is using the most advanced legs already, Otto Bock x2’s. The x2’s have a passive knee joint that can guess what Taylor is attempting to do based on where the pressure is on his feet, the angle of the leg and by where Taylor puts his weight. Although they’re highly advanced, if you step wrong, the knees turn into a folding lawn chair and you’ll find yourself on the ground instantly.
Taylor is creating his own rules and timeline for his recovery. Last time I was out there, I was hoping by the next time I came out to see Taylor that I could maybe see him stand. It was a lofty goal, as it often takes at least three months to heal enough to be fit with prosthetics. Once a person stands, they need to re-learn their sense of balance starting from a low height and slowing increasing their leg length for weeks until they can balance at their original height. Then they learn to move around on a knee-less leg, and eventually they will try knees. This process can literally take years, even for a single amputee. Taylor was in his knees within one month of first standing. Needless to say, the higher ups are watching him and his physical trainer, Brad, under a microscope to make sure he’s truly progressing properly and not just rushing through the recovery. Brad is doing the best job he can to try and mold Taylor’s recovery to Walter Reed’s strict recovery process, but Taylor simply won’t have it that way. He’s pushing the boundaries, breaking the rules and learning skills far faster than anyone could imagine.
When I say breaking the rules, I literally mean breaking the rules. I felt like I was back in the early years of our friendship when Taylor decided to sneak back into the MATC after hours and get more time on his legs. He said he didn’t even break a sweat with his therapist and wanted more time on the legs! We snuck back in, put his legs on and walked at least a mile and a half! It was so great to walk beside Taylor for an hour and catch up and dream about the things he’ll be doing when he gets done with his recovery. We joked around about several different business ideas, but for now, I think I like our sushi and wheat grass idea best! haha
As if those extra laps weren’t enough, Taylor demanded we take them back to the room so he could wear them over the weekend. I swear, once he gets an idea in his head, you can’t stop him. So, against all knowledge and recommendation of the hospital, he took his legs out to pick up Danielle that Saturday. Saturday morning Riley and I were entertained by Taylor’s mood. To say he had a bounce in his step wouldn’t be an exaggeration. He provided an enjoyable soundtrack as he whistled all morning, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his loved one.
Taylor has this attitude that he’ll learn things as they come. When we went shopping Saturday afternoon, he kept his legs on. He walked around a tightly packed, busy store downtown DC and didn’t have a single incident. He didn’t flinch when he walked up to the escalators. Riley and I braced for the worse, thinking it’d be some big event, but Taylor just hopped on, cackled and said “Sometimes you just gotta go for it.” Taylor bought a new outfit that he’ll be sporting at a friend’s wedding this September, which helped remind us that Taylor is one seriously good looking guy.
That evening, we did an incredible photo shoot with all of Taylor’s gear. The images speak for themselves.
My absolute favorite part of my time spent out there was when we spontaneously decided to head down to Taylor and Danielle’s house in Virginia Beach. Riley and I hadn’t seen their place, so on a whim we took off for the 220 mile trip. For the entire four hours of the trip, it was impossible to tell anything has changed in Taylor’s life. He and Danielle still flirted in the back seat the whole way down, tickling and teasing each other the entire time. We all laughed and listened to music and got to forget about the hospital. That night we spent a few hours hanging out with Taylor’s EOD buddy, Josh. It was really fun for Riley and I to see this part of their life. A nice refreshment from therapy and doctors.
Of all the good times we shared down in Virginia Beach, the one thing I learned is don’t ask Taylor to wrestle. I joked with him as we got our beds ready for the night, “Do you think you can wrestle still?” He put on his poker face, held back a smirk and said “I think so.” Before the sentence left his tongue, he was already on top of me shoving me onto my back. The pure shock sent me into hysteria! I don’t think I’ve belly laughed like that in years. I struggled to catch my breath as Taylor continued folding me into a pretzel. Moral of the story: Don’t ask a former state wrestler to wrestle, even if you’ve got 50 pounds on them.
Maybe surprising strength is a common bond Taylor and Danielle share. Until Taylor can wear his legs full time, there are still obstacles when loading and unloading a car or when going up and down stairs. Danielle doesn’t hesitate when we arrive at our destinations if there are steps involved (like the 15 to get to the main floor of their house). She bends down, Taylor hops on her back and she carries him up the stairs without complaint or struggle. It’s a beautiful site, really. That’s when I realized her emotional strength is matched only by her physical strength!
When the rain cleared Monday evening, we took a stroll on the beach before leaving town. It was the first time since the accident they’d been to the beach together. They used to run on it often and I could tell they are looking forward to that day when Taylor can run down the beach with her again.
Tuesday would bring us back to their routine: Physical therapy, occupational therapy and answering e-mails. Taylor still has a ways to go as far as mastering his legs, but his progress is nothing short of astounding. He’ll continue to break the rules, exceed expectations and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Riley and I had a lot of time on the way home to process our time with Taylor and Danielle. We took home a few key notes:
1. Don’t ask to wrestle Taylor unless you have a good chiropractor.
2. Taylor and Danielle laugh and smile constantly. Their love beams from their faces, and their love shows in their hard work.
3. Don’t tell Taylor he can’t do something. Whether you know it or not, he will go and do it ASAP. So to this I say, “Taylor, you can’t ride a motorcycle again.” I can’t wait until he proves me wrong :)
Read the follow up to this story here.
To keep up to date with Taylor’s progress, make a donation, or buy a Taylor Morris T-Shirt; please visit www.taylormorris.org