Kirstie Ennis lost her leg in war, became friends with Prince Harry, and climbed to the top of the World. Think she’s done? You don’t know Kirstie Ennis.
By David Cummings
Kirstie Ennis story has been written about in Cosmo, People, and countless newspapers and magazines around the world. She’s been honored by ESPN and used her celebrity to start a non-profit organization that raises money for organizations that improve lives through education.
Ennis didn’t sign up for accolades when she joined the Marines. But notoriety comes when you are the female soldier amputee who told Prince Harry to “suck it up.” Back in 2015, the two were participating in a 1,000-mile hike for a charity, Walking with the Wounded. The event is held in the U.K., and Prince Harry is one of its biggest supporters. Ennis had put off a scheduled amputation to make the walk. At one point, it became apparent the Prince needed some encouragement. “We were representing a lot, we were representing people who didn’t come,” Ennis recalls. “I wasn’t tripping over myself and worrying about calling him, Prince. I was like if you’re going to do something, then you need to come and F@#$ing do it. I told him if he was going to do it with us, he needs to grit his teeth and walk.”
Ennis swears to this day her matter of fact attitude is one of the reasons she and Harry (that’s what she calls him now) became friends. “I treat him like a person.”
Ennis, who lost her left leg following a tragic 2012 helicopter crash in Afghanistan, has retold that tale enough, as well as chronicling her accident and the result. She believes the media interest changed her life. She deals with it to use her celebrity for a good cause.
“My dream growing up was to be a Marine. Since I can’t continue to serve my country in the military the way I want to, maybe I can inspire others to follow their dreams,” she says. “If people see me pursuing my goals despite what some may consider obstacles, maybe they will be inspired to chase their dreams.”
Ennis dream is to climb the highest peak on each continent, an accomplishment known as the “Seven Summits.” In 2017 she climbed the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia and also Mount Kilimanjaro. She is the first female above-the-knee amputee to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Her climbing didn’t stop there. She has summited the Cotopaxi in Ecuador and made it to the South Summit of Everest. Her goal is to complete the Seven Summits by 2021. Even if she never does it, Ennis’ accomplishments are an inspiration for anyone. She’s completed three Master’s degrees and is working on her doctorate in Education.
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 on completing her doctorate in Education.
Ennis is a small ball of fire. But she gets everything she can out of her 5-foot-3, 104 pounds every day. Her competitive spirit approaches fanatical. She graduated from high school early. Athletic and restless, she has always been one to make decisions decisively because she knows what she wants to do, and just goes after it. That’s how she ended up joining the Marines. Sitting in a chemistry lab during class at a Pensacola, Fla., community college, Ennis said, “I was 17 years old, and I looked around the room and said it’s time to go. My friends looked at me and were like ‘What?’ I said I’m joining the Marines.”
Although she was unable to have the 20-year military career she envisioned, Ennis is a soldier worthy of praise. The injuries she suffered in the helicopter crash required over 40 surgeries and resulted in the left leg amputation, a traumatic brain injury, a battle with MRSA (caused by the second amputation on her leg), and a suicide attempt. Through it all, Ennis said family support is what got her through the toughest times. Without them, she doesn’t know if she would be alive. Her family’s sacrifice after she returned to San Diego following the crash, lifted her spirits. Her mom and dad packed up their house in Alabama and moved to be near her; Ennis younger sister dropped out of high school to help. “When I first got hurt, I really, really struggled,” she says. “I struggled with the loss of who I was mentally, physically, and socially. You can’t go over to war and not come back changed. The things that you see changes you, especially for those on the ground.”
Ennis says no amount of training can prepare a soldier to see someone lose their leg, or get blown up or shot and killed nearby. When she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she accepted it and went to meetings and still struggled with anxiety and trust. “It’s hard to express yourself, especially to people when you can’t pinpoint your issues yourself,” she says. It was her dad who ultimately got through after her suicide attempt. “My dad basically sat me down and said, ‘Look, you came home from this war, and now you’re going to kill yourself?’ He basically got my ass in gear,” Ennis remembers. “That was my reality check. Sometimes tough love is what we need.”
Her personal experience is one reason Ennis feels people slap the label of PTSD on others too quickly and without understanding the complexities of the disorder. She even says some veterans owe it to each other not to use PTSD as a crutch. “We’ve become lackadaisical to being hard on people who have served,” Ennis says. “You still have responsibilities; you still have a family and so much going on not to succumb to the impact of PTSD.”
Her purpose had a lot to do with her frank talk to Prince Harry. Ennis felt obligated to honor soldiers. She said all of the individuals and teams who participated in the event had their motivations. Some groups wanted to do it so just so they could say they did it. Others were interested in the emotional challenge. Ennis’ purpose was two-fold: she was representing soldiers and people who didn’t come home, and “I wanted my dog tags.” She had left over 20 dog tags on the route of the walk and kept one tag to place at Buckingham Palace. Instead, she offered it to Harry. His emotions led to a hug and a picture of the embrace spread around the world.