Inspiring the Legacy of Women's History Month with Veteran Kirstie Ennis
Here at Pelican we know the strength of our products is only surpassed by the strength in character of those who use them. As we're in the middle of Women's History Month and on the tail end of International Women's Day, we’re constantly inspired by the journey, dedication, and fortitude of the Women in our community, and one such inspiration continues to shine her light, Marine Corps Veteran Kirstie Ennis. We had the honor of sitting down and catching up with the amazing Kirstie and for those of you who don’t already know Ennis and her growing legacy, buckle up.
Ennis is a former Marine sergeant, has completed three master’s degrees, is working on a doctorate in Education, is an ambassador for multiple brands and organizations, runs her own non-profit foundation (The Kirstie Ennis Foundation), holds several awards and honors, and is a champion for those with physical restrictions, as Kirstie herself is an above-the-knee amputee resulting from an injury while servicing with the corps in Afghanistan.
Ennis’ latest expedition included scaling the highest peak in Antarctica, as she inches closer to hitting the highest peaks in all seven continents. There have only been about 350 people to ever complete the summits, only 10 of those being women. This makes her goal of becoming the first above-the-knee amputee to accomplish all seven summits that much more challenging and alluring.
Climbing Mount Vinson in Antarctica was “special for me,” said Ennis. She enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded women from all over the world, even if she was the youngest by 15 years. Although the five-day-plus hike came with numerous challenges and hardships, Ennis was ultimately left feeling inspired and empowered. She hopes to inspire younger generations of women and remind them, “anything is possible, you just have to be willing to work for it.”
Immediately after returning from Antarctica and tuning up her prosthetics in San Diego, Ennis headed to her foundation’s third annual women’s veterans snowboarding clinic in Colorado. This recreational therapy clinic covers everything including travel, gear, helmets, snowboards, suits, meals, local season passes and more. She arrived with her snowboarding prosthetic leg safe and secure in her custom Pelican Case. Once set up, she was ready to "show [the veterans] how to enjoy the sport that saved my life.” Kirstie often refers to snowboarding as the activity that helped her in the darkest days after her injury, as she was competing at an extremely high level.
Although her accomplishments speak for themselves, we wanted an inside scoop from Kirstie Ennis herself.
What does International Women’s Day and Women's History Month mean to you?
“The recognition around the importance of Women's History for me is huge because when I was in the hospital, I didn’t have the role model I wanted. Yeah I had wounded men and injured men surrounding me the whole time, but it’s different. I don’t care who you are or what you believe in, men and women are different - the way that we operate is different. For me, going through the hospital, I hit my darkest and lowest days. I didn’t want to be alive. And then, I started getting introduced to these powerful women doing unthinkable, insane things. I finally had role models and like minded people. So for me, that’s one of the thing’s I’ve been striving to do - to be that woman role model, that hope for other women, the ones that are struggling, that are suffering, that may or may not be in the hospital and might just be hiding in the shadows. I think that is what’s most special to me.”
Do you consider yourself to be a powerful woman?
“I do. It’s very hard for me to take compliments and brag on myself, but I do. But I don’t think that I always was. Even when I was in the marine corps, and I was damn good at what I did. I was combat meritoriously promoted to Sergeant, and I held my own for a long time against the guys and I didn't consider myself powerful then. But in the last three to four years, yes.”
Is there anyone that inspires you in your career and/or who is your biggest inspiration?
“There’s a woman by the name of Cat Zingano, she’s a UFC fighter and a very close friend of mine. She’s a single mom, she's still fighting, still mean as all hell. Back in the day her husband was her coach. She came home one day and found that her husband had committed suicide. She decided to not give up fighting, went back, and got a new coach. Once back, she goes into the ring and whoops this chick’s ass. When they tell her she won, she lets out the nastiest scream, not proud that she won, but you can tell there's just so much anger and heart and passion in it. After I watched that I reached out to her and she and I have been very close. To see everything that she’s been through and worked through and still fighting for, she's definitely up there.”
Have you faced any challenges in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
“As far as being a woman, I feel like I’m always the underdog and always expected to be the slowest. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with missing my leg, but I think I’m always underestimated. I once stood in an elevator full of other wounded veterans and had somebody walk into the elevator, thank everyone else for their service, and ignore me. I’ve also been in situations where although I own a whiskey company and a brewery, people think I’m still in the background even though I am the major player in all of it. On Mount Everest and Mount Vinson, all too often people looked at Rob, my climbing partner, and said “it’s awesome you guys are out here.” They assumed that Rob was leading the expedition, but it was really the other way around. It’s not necessarily the physical things, but being able to actually assimilate into this group and community, if you will, and be recognized as someone who is actually making change and making a difference. I think the only way to change that perspective is just to continue being persistent and being gritty and just resilient with it. Keep showing up time and time again.”
How can we encourage more young women to pursue careers like yours and what advice would you share with them?
“I say it time and time again. It’s the six inches between your ears and what’s behind your rib cage that dictates what you’re capable of. That applies to young women and to anyone that’s like me. I think we underestimate ourselves and we get afraid and feel like we’re not deserving of certain things and the reality is that we absolutely are. So again, if you’re willing to put in the time, energy, and effort to make a goal happen, then you’re absolutely deserving. And I think even beyond that is to dream big, dream really big, but then set small goals and celebrate those small goals as well. Women have to believe in themselves and they have to be confident in what their strengths are. There’s nothing wrong with being so self-aware that you fill in the gaps. If you're not strong at something, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out and asking somebody for help or finding someone to partner with and help you out. Lean in. Lean in to the people around you, lean in on your beliefs, and definitely lean in to what you’re passionate about.”
What is one thing you would like to share with others during Women's History Month?
“I just feel like women are told no all the time. No matter what the scenario is, we’re told no, but I want to remind women that no is just the beginning. No is your chance, it is your opportunity to start negotiating because you’re going to find your answer, so again be persistent, be gritty.”
A huge thank you again to Kirstie for everything that she does and for being a huge supporter of the Pelican brand. We salute you and continue to be inspired by your vision and execution.