Kirstie Ennis’ story may have begun when she lost her leg after her helicopter went down in Afghanistan, but it certainly doesn’t end there. After more than 40 surgeries and the amputation of her leg first below and then above the knee after a life-threatening infection, the former Marine sergeant has already accomplished more than most people have in their lifetimes.
Ennis’ story has been well documented. She allowed cameras into the hospital to film her amputation for an inspirational short film produced by Cosmopolitan magazine. She was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body” issue. Photos of Prince Harry embracing Ennis after she completed a 1,000-mile walk across England, Wales and Scotland for the British non-profit, Walking for the Wounded, appeared in People magazine. She was later honored by the magazine as their “Annual Body Image Hero” in 2016.
Ennis has turned the concept of “disabled athlete” on its head, proving how capable she still is, whether it’s on one leg or two. She competed in boardercross and banked slalom as a Paralympic snowboarder and then ventured into mountaineering, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro (at 19,341-feet it’s the highest point in Africa) to support the non-profit The Waterboys. Then she successfully climbed Carstenzs, the highest point in Oceania, for The Heroes Project; tackled Elbrus, the highest point in Europe to support GLAM4GOOD; and then conquered Aconcagua, the highest point in South America at 22,841 feet. She has summited Cotopaxi, the highest peak in Ecuador; got turned around by weather while on Denali in support of Building Homes for Heroes; and made it to the South Summit of Everest. She hopes to complete the Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent by 2021.
What people might not know about Ennis: she’s completed three Master’s degrees (Human Behavior, Business Administration and Public Administration) and is currently working to complete her doctorate in Education. She is an ambassador for the nonprofit Building Homes for Heroes and sits on the board of Merging Vets and Players. She worked as a stuntwoman on Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg in 2016. She’s a motivational speaker and appeared on stage at Madison Square Garden in 2015, opening for Bruce Springsteen at the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s 9th Annual Stand Up for Heroes event. She’s an entrepreneur and businesswoman who opened her first business, the Chapter One Hair and Body Lab, in Oceanside, California in 2017, followed by her second business, Citizen Crossfit. She earned her license as a real estate advisor and is based at Engel & Volkers in Aspen, Colorado.
Ennis joined the Marines when she was only 17 years old and enlisted as an aircraft mechanic, inspired by her parents who were both Marines. “I idolized what they were doing. I have always wanted to serve and to help others who can’t protect themselves,” she says. “I wanted to give my parents a reason to be proud of me like I was of them.” She chose to become an aircraft mechanic because she didn’t know the first thing about airplanes. “I went to the recruiter’s office and told them I wanted it to be hard. I wanted to be challenged physically and intellectually,” she says. After everything she’s been through, that hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s inspired her to push even harder, not only for herself but to inspire others. “I’m extremely proud of everything I did in the military and I’d do it all over again if I could,” she told Cosmopolitan. “That’s what I signed up for. I would lay my life down for the men and women that stood alongside me. At the end of the day, I’m thankful it happened to me and no one else.”
After returning home from Everest in the summer of 2019, Kirstie was the ESPY’s Pat Tillman Award recipient. In 2020, she was the recipient of the “Higher Ground” award at the Salute to Greatness Awards, held by the Martin Luther King Jr. family. She was also inducted into the 2020 International Sports Hall of Fame.