Kirstie Ennis: The Best Life Lessons From An Inspiration
The image of Kirstie Ennis on the cover of ESPN–The Magazine’s Body Issue in 2017–speaks volumes, metaphorically, about the Marine Corps veteran’s climb to overcome life’s challenges with stalwart strength, determination, grace and splendor. One might wonder why ESPN selected this military veteran amputee to grace their cover from the multitude of professional sports figures who are seemingly more accomplished.
But don’t get stuck on the photo–it’s the storyline behind her image that is most telling.
See, life for Kirstie Ennis wasn’t always this way. It changed for her, physically, when on June 23, 2012, the CH-53D Sea Stallion she was an aerial gunner crew member on crash landed in Musa Oala, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, flying missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In her words, it was “a game changer.” As a result of the crash, Kirstie, age 21 at the time, suffered multiple injuries to include a broken left ankle and jaw, a torn rotator cuff and labrum, damage to her spine and a traumatic brain injury.
Over the next couple of years, Kirstie endured numerous surgeries to repair her broken body and had plenty of time to contemplate what was next. Her road to recovery, like many wounded veterans, was full of personal, mental, and physical obstacles. Kirstie had to relearn basic motor skills like walking and talking. She experienced medical setbacks when at first her right leg had to be amputated below the knee. She later learned, after a post-surgery infection set in, that her leg had to be further amputated above the knee. These personal setbacks might have stopped the average person, but you will learn Kirstie is no ordinary human being. Her life teaches us many life lessons through her words, but more importantly her actions.
1. Focus on What You Have, Not on What You Don’t
Before Kirstie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17, she was already accomplished in her own right–academically. She completed her high school requirements at the age of 15 and prior to joining the Marine Corps, had completed two years of college. Furthermore, she had always been a competitive athlete in high school. It was therefore natural for her to turn to sports for relief and solace to feed her inner spirit and re-energize her personal confidence during her recovery. “It’s not just a physical process, it’s mental and emotional,” she said.
The incident caused Kirstie to focus more on what she had in front of her versus on the past. She will never complain about her life as an amputee. In fact, she has accomplished more personally with one leg than she had ever dreamed of with two.
2. Set Lofty Goals and Stay Busy
In an interview with U.S. Veterans magazine, Kirstie put her mindset in perspective: “I go full throttle,” she said. “I come up with obnoxious goals and I go after them.” She understands an idle mind and body equals complacency and that is a wounded warrior’s worst enemy.
Even though she grew up in Florida, Kirstie took quickly to snowboarding while learning the sport in Breckenridge, Colorado, back in 2013. She loved it so much she wanted to snowboard competitively, with the goal of competing in the 2018 Winter Paralympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea. Today, she is one of the best Paralympian snowboarders in the world and reached her goal of competing in the South Korean Paralympics.
She hasn’t settled with just one goal in mind. Kirstie wants to climb the Seven Great Summits during her lifetime. To date, she has completed the 19,341 ft. climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa, and the 16,024 ft. Carstensz Pyramid, Indonesia. She aims to stay busy while setting lofty goals for herself and her team of supporters.
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Its a special time of year and I’m feeling the love ❤️ Thank you @cutecountrygirls for featuring my cover on your page just in time for the release of the 10th annual ESPN Body Issue, but more importantly thanks for supporting strong and authentic ladies! While initially, I had cold “feet” about the shoot because there would be nay sayers out there, I went for it in hopes that it would show people to embrace and love their differences. PARENTS have reached out to me more than anyone thanking me for giving their children a reason to love their bodies and to challenge their own limitations. That’s what it’s all about. It took me awhile, but now my favorite part of my body, is actually my “flaw” – my leg. What do you love about your body? #leftlegless #strongispretty #climbing #climbon #bodyissue #staywild #mountainbuilt #adventureathlete #ownit #fullsend #crushing #bodypositive #modelbehavior
3. Be of Service to Others
As a Marine serving her country, Sergeant Kirstie Ennis personally earned Marine Corps medals, badges and ribbons to include the Air Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Action badge with three gold stars. Her accomplishments didn’t stop with her recognition for her service. Her life today is so much more than medals and ribbons on her uniform or her DD-214. It’s about continuing to serve and giving back by demonstrating the only limits we have in life are those we set on ourselves.
In 2015, Kirstie Ennis participated with Prince William in a “Walking With The Wounded.” This is a 72-day charity event, trekking over 1600 kilometers all over the United Kingdom and ending at Buckingham Palace, raising awareness and contributions for wounded British military veterans.
Even her posing on the cover of ESPN, The Magazine’s Body issue, challenged her idea of service to others. When she got “cold feet”, she was encouraged by her family and supporters to do it, to inspire others by exposing herself and her accomplishments as a military veteran and amputee. The former Marine’s idea of service was challenged by this idea. But the challenge wasn’t the posing. It was getting Kirstie to remain still long enough for the photographer to snap the images.
4. There Is Never a Reason to Give Up
The perils of military service encapsulate Kirstie’s story, but instead of wallowing in self-pity and personal doubts, she faced the daily challenges head-on, accomplishing more with a prosthetic leg. Her personal determination, mental prowess and physical accomplishments don’t set her apart. They inspire other wounded military veterans, both at home and overseas, and others with disabilities to live life to its fullest. While people may have an excuse for falling short of a personal goal, Kirstie believes, “there is never a reason to give up.”
The life of Kirstie Ennis, to this point, has been nothing short of amazing. From the time she was born, through the crash landing in Afghanistan up until today, she’s no doubt a highly accomplished American citizen, Marine and human being. While her personal outlook on life was changed by the crash in 2012, her mental resolve and physicality have expanded beyond her imagination while she has grown personally. She emerged from the flames a fiery Phoenix, more physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually stronger than her former self. As Kirstie Ennis has stated herself, there is never a reason to quit, but neither are there ever reasons not to live life to its fullest accomplishing your wildest dreams.
Semper Fi, Marine! All the best in your journey!
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