Kirstie Ennis Inspires
The former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant wants to climb all seven summits.
In part, it’s former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Kirstie Ennis' life-changing injury that’s fueled a sense of adventure. In 2012, working as a helicopter door gunner on her final deployment to Afghanistan, Ennis’ copter crashed. She was left with traumatic brain, face, and spine injuries. It also resulted in the amputation of her left leg above the knee.
Exercise and outdoor adventure, Ennis says, saved her life. Now, five years later, the 26-year-old is in Nepal. Her goal: to summit Everest. If that sounds ambitious, know that it’s just part of her bigger plan, which is to climb all of the ‘seven summits,’ the highest peak on each continent.
She’s already made progress, too. In July, with The Heroes Project—a group that empowers injured war veterans through physical expeditions—Ennis became the first female U.S. veteran above-the-knee amputee to summit Carstensz Pyramid, a 16,023-foot peak in Western Papua.
Also this year, she was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. Next March, she hopes to snowboard in the winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Furthermore caught up with Ennis about what it takes to keep pushing further forward—and upward.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for editorial purposes.
Climb all seven summits. Qualify for the Olympics. How do you work on setting and achieving such enormous goals?
I am part stubborn and part crazy. I am the kind of person who goes all in. When I get an idea and convince myself that it is what I want to do, hang on—because I turn into a hurricane. I am obnoxiously competitive, but also want to continue serving people. By showing the world what the body and our minds are capable of, I give myself a sense of purpose.
Why do you want to climb all seven summits?
I got involved in climbing and snowboarding after my injuries. I needed something to give me the confidence to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to, regardless of my lack of a limb.
During my 1,000-mile trek of the U.K. in 2015, I encountered a little boy with hearing aids at about mile 500, who said, “I'm just like you,” referring to my leg. The following week, a little girl came up to me with braces on her legs and said, “I'm just like you.” In both cases they were referring to my leg, or our “disabilities.”
This is when my lightbulb went off. This was my new purpose: to inspire any man, woman, or child to go forth and use more of their potential, regardless of the adversities they faced.
What’s the strongest part of your body?
My right leg. It is my motor, especially on the mountains. There is this misconception that with my prosthetic, walking must be easy—that’s not the case.
What is your off-the-mountain exercise routine?
I prefer strength and conditioning, but also high-intensity training. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD, but I am constantly seeking out new forms of exercise to try. I am not a fan of doing the same exercises every few days. Bless my trainers for their creativity. I am in the gym Monday through Thursday, with active recovery on Friday. Saturday, I prefer to do hiking or altitude training; and again active recovery on Sunday.
What does a chill, recovery day look like for you?
My recovery days are all active recovery. If I am meant to let my body rest, I am still doing yoga or swimming. I honestly do not know how to “relax.” I do not feel comfortable if I am sitting still or not chipping away at a goal in some form or fashion—it’s both a blessing and a curse. I always like to be moving, mainly because it keeps my brain engaged and distracted from things that could possibly derail me from what I have worked so hard for.
You have a Masters in psychology. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned when it comes to the power of the mind?
Everything is literally mind over matter. You can run an ultra-marathon having not trained and you can put your body through the ringer as long as you have mastered the art form of wrapping your brain around what you are capable of. Your mind can convince your body of anything. I would not be where I am had I not been able to convince myself to keep fighting.
What do the power of exercise and outdoor adventure mean to you now?
Exercise and the outdoors have kept me strong, empowered, forever learning, and have fueled my fire to be the best—or to be the first. Exercise gave me a platform to give back and a platform to motivate people. If I can make a difference in one person’s life every so often then I am doing something right.