DENVER - A Colorado Veteran who received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star calls Afghanistan the forgotten war.
Jesse Murphree has been home in Colorado for a few years, but the war will never leave him. It will never leave his mind. It will never leave his body.
"I've been down to the bottom of the hill pretty much," he said. "It's no place you want to be and no place you want to stay."
If you watch Murphree in a weight room you'd notice his strength and intensity long before you see the metal prosthetics he wears on both legs. He finished on the bench presses. It was a set that would challenge anyone in the room.
There is a weight we choose to carry in life. Sometimes, like for Murphree, those weights are unfairly placed on you.
"It is how I clear my anxiety," he said between weight machines. "It is a way, I guess, to be normal again."
"I was in Afghanistan December of 2007," he said as his voice drifted off. "We were on a patrol."
The Army Corporal found himself in a battle already documented in books.
The Korengal Valley is known as the deadliest place in Afganistan. Seventy percent of the bombs dropped, land there.
Murphree and his unit lived and breathed that awful valley all day, every day, for months. They always knew they were one moment away from a disaster. It happened two days after Christmas.
"The next thing you know I'm waking up on the side of a mountain," he said.
A roadside bomb had thrown him hundreds of yards.
"I knew my legs were really bad," he said.
He tried not to look.
"The first time I died was when I went into the helicopter," he said.
It would not be the only time Army medics would have to revive him.
The fight in that moment was simply to live. The fight ever since is to reclaim life.
"I'm still alive so there is two ways you can look at it," Murphree said.
There would be more than 50 surgeries, including a double amputation above the knee for a soldier who had never before faced physical limitations.
"You are trapped inside your mind and you become depressed," he said.
He said he hit rock bottom.
"I didn't want to do the things I used to do because it reminded me I couldn't do it the same way anymore," he said.
It was a period in his life when Murphree learned that even burdens that feel impossibly heavy can become lighter with time and opportunity.
"I ended up meeting the people at Make A Hero."
It would change his life.
THE JOURNEY TO GREAT DEPTHS
At A-1 Scuba in Englewood, the soldier who never cared much for water decided to train to go to great depths.
"If someone came up to me and said, 'Let's go scuba diving,' I would have looked straight at them and [said] 'no.'"
Murphree adjusted his mask. Scott Taylor helped to check his tank and talked him through everything that would come next. Taylor and his wife Lynn, own A-1. They have decades of diving experience. Nothing means more, they say than helping people who have physical challenges get to experience scuba diving.
Taylor called in an honor to watch the transformation.
"He's taken to the water like nobody else I've worked with," he said.
It wasn't just a physical accomplishment.
"It just opened up more doors and it made me a better person to be around because I saw there was more than I can do," Murphree said.
The greatest adventure would come next.
THE TRIP TO PARADISE
When Murphree arrived in Cozumel, Mexico he found a movie set with a purpose more beautiful than the ocean view.
Boulder film maker, Kurt Miller, brought a crew to the ocean to film part of his documentary, "The Current." Miller's nonprofit Make A Hero helps people facing physical challenges get the chance to break through limitations through recreational sports like scuba diving.
"The water was clear, the sand the reef that we saw was pretty much amazing," Murphree said.
He said the sight of it all was awesome, but it could not compare to how it felt to be deep in the ocean.
He felt weightless.
"You aren't trying to think about how you are going to walk up this curb," he said. "You are just thinking about going along with the current."
He felt free.
"It is something I haven't felt in a long time," Murphree smiled.
He felt equal.
World class athletes are also part of the The Current movie with Murphree. Bethany Hamilton is a professional surfer who lost her arm to a shark. Missy Franklin is a 5 time Olympic medalist in swimming. Anthony Robles was born with one leg and went on to win a NCAA championship in wrestling. Mallory Weggemann is a gold medalist in swimming from the Paralympics.
"Under water, we are all the same," Murphree said.
The circumstances of life have not changed. It is a reality Murphree cannot escape.
"No matter how you look at it, you can never like missing both of your legs. You can live with it and accept it, but you don't like it."
But, the greatest weight in his life is now redefined. Experiencing the freedom of the ocean's current gave him a greater vision for his future and something powerful to share with others.
"You can keep going. You can keep moving forward. Every day is a new start."
The movie, The Current, will be released this winter. All the ticket sales will help people with physical challenges access sports through http://www.makeahero.org/
To learn more about the effort to get Murphree a companion dog, go to: http://www.makeahero.org/make-a-heros-wounded-military-fighters-fund/
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)