WASHINGTON -- There isn't a day that goes by that Stephanie Morris doesn't think about June 18, 2013, and how her life changed after that fateful day at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Morris, an Army specialist, had recently exchanged birthday gifts with her roommate on what was supposed to be an otherwise nondescript day on the air base as they walked to the bus stop.
"And then we got indirect fire," Morris said. "Two rocket-propelled grenades came in back-to-back, and we were all on the ground. I tried to get up, but I couldn't. I was screaming, but I was the only one screaming."
Morris wrapped a Mickey Mouse blanket she had received as a gift around her roommate, but it wasn't enough. Morris was the only one of the five wounded to survive the indirect enemy fire. Morris fractured her left femur and her right foot, and was airlifted to a medical center in Germany, and eventually medevacked to the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
"It's hard to push forward when you were the only survivor," Morris said. "It's hard when your four battle buddies were [killed in action]."
Morris, who is now 27, was sent to Walter Reed to begin her recovery. It was also where she found an outlet and a path to normalcy that didn't seem possible before. She got involved in adaptive sports and began to rekindle her love for volleyball and basketball, although she now had to learn how to transfer her skills to sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
WWE wrestlers are learning how to play wheelchair basketball today at the Naval Support Activity in Bethesda. pic.twitter.com/4khQT7DD54
- Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) December 13, 2016
"The rules are pretty much the same, but the shooting is a lot different," Morris said. "You have to learn how to maneuver the chair too. It takes time."
After more than 30 failed surgeries, Morris elected to have her right leg amputated below the knee in July. The constant pain she was in before and the seemingly never-ending frustration of unsuccessful surgeries have subsided -- and she's learning to walk with a prosthetic leg.
While she still undergoes physical therapy every day, Morris appears at home on the basketball court, effortlessly grabbing rebounds and gliding up the court for an easy lay-up. On Dec. 13, she had the opportunity to not only serve as a player, but a coach as well, when WWE wrestlers came to the Naval Support Activity Gym in Bethesda as part of the company's annual "Tribute to the Troops" outreach. During the day, WWE wrestlers visited Fort Meade and NSA Bethesda to highlight the USO's 75th anniversary.
Morris admits she is more of an old-school wrestling fan, cheering for wrestlers like The Undertaker and Diamond Dallas Page growing up, but she quickly became a fan of many of the current WWE superstars as she taught The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods), Dana Brooke, Charlotte Flair, Bob Backlund and Darren Young how to play wheelchair basketball.
"It was quite interesting to take them out of their comfort zone and what they're used to and have them do what we do," Morris said. "It was interesting watching them try to maneuver out there. They have what they're good at, [and] we have what we're good at, I guess."
Some wrestlers picked up on wheelchair basketball quicker than others. Brooke scored the first baskets of the game and routinely asked Morris questions about maneuvering around in her wheelchair.
"It was difficult, to be honest, to stop and go, and turning left or right," Brooke said. "Holding the ball in my lap was the hardest part, because as your moment is going and you stop, the ball wants to go forward. But just being here is amazing. What these troops have done for us, if we can help out in some small way by being here or putting on a show for them tonight, it's an honor."
By the end of the game, Morris had become a fan of all the wrestlers who played wheelchair basketball, especially The New Day, who made her get up from her wheelchair and take a picture with them after the game was over.
"It's inspiring," Woods said. "They are kind enough to take us into their world during the day and treat us as one of their own, and later on we can take them into our world. They show us what they do, and we show them what we do, and there's a connection, a bond, when the day is done."
After the wheelchair basketball game and lunch with the wrestlers at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Bethesda, where Backlund and Young served chicken and pasta, and Flair and Mark Henry handed out autographed photos, many of the troops made the 30-minute trip to Washington, D.C., later that night to watch the WWE tape their "Tribute to the Troops" show at the Verizon Center.
Morris attended the show with Army Sgt. Chris McGinnis and others on their wheelchair basketball team currently training for the Warrior Games, which is an annual adaptive-sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, which will take place in Chicago in June.
"It's nice to get a break and come with everyone I practice with and play adaptive sports with and enjoy this together," Morris said while taking her seat at the Verizon Center. "We play all the time, and we're training for the Warrior Games right now, which includes each branch of the military against each other."
As Morris looked around the arena during a commercial break, she smiled at the sight of members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard at the WWE "Tribute to the Troops" show wearing their uniforms and cheering whenever their branch was shouted out.
"Although we all come from different backgrounds, we have that brotherhood and sisterhood," Morris said. "There's a camaraderie and bond we've built that go way past anything. There's nothing quite like it, but when you see it on a day like today at an event like this, it's special."