Losing a limb, or two, is inevitably a traumatizing experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s through a planned surgery with months of preparation in advance or suddenly. For Staff Sergent Jesse Cottle, the loss of both his legs came after he stepped on an “improvised explosive device” or IED while serving in the Marines in Afghanistan in 2009.
Cottle explains, today, that he understand the dangers involved in his position within the marines. “We were on an IED clearing mission on foot, it’s not the safest job you could choose.”
The explosion destroyed both his legs the moment he stepped on the device.
But you may be shocked to learn that Cottle doesn’t regret that day for a moment, or even wish he could go back and change what happened. During his recovery and rehabilitation, Cottle spent a great deal of time in a swimming pool where he happen to meet a woman named Kelly who would soon become his wife. A photo of the couple, where Kelly is holding Jesse on her back without his prosthetics attached, is now going viral across the internet.
Kelly adds that she too was drawn as instantly to Cottle as he was to her. “He was just very different and not because of his legs, just who he was.”
Cottle explains he has no regrets, “I was lucky to be able to go through the tough recovery, and then still live my life, and meet my beautiful wife.”
The now very well-known photographer, Sarah Ledford, says the photo was truly unplanned, because Cottle had been wearing his prosthetic legs throughout the entire rest of the photo shoot, but she wanted a photo of the pair in the water.
“So,” explains Kelly, “we said ‘well, you can just pop off your legs and get on one of our backs and we’ll take you in’ and so, ’cause that’s just how we get around sometimes, like at the beach. We do it all the time. It’s just pretty normal, so he hopped back on my back and then Sarah’s like ‘oh, we’ll take some couples shots.'”
As Ledford struggles to keep up with the attention this image is bringing to her own Facebook page, she adds, “The picture just blew up. America just fell in love with Jesse and Kelly.”
Jesse and Kelly officially became husband and wife in 2012.
Jesse Cottle’s story serves as a stark reminder that many miles away men and women continue to risk their lives fighting for other’s freedom. With war-related amputations reported to be rising with each decade, there have been over 1,500 amputations since the war in Afghanistan and Iraq began in 2001. Over 16,000 soldiers have been injured and removed from the war zone, and over 50,000 have suffered injuries of some kind.
Perhaps what this image also truly provides for America is an example of devotion and genuine commitment, genuine connection, and real love. In a world where we are constantly inundated with advertisements telling us to become more beautiful, more tan, more thin, more ripped, more blonde, more whatever…the Cottle’s remind us that behind all that marketing and media are real people who connect through ways that go far beyond our outer appearance.
Written by: Ginger Vieira