What defines a hero? Perhaps you imagine courage, resiliency, outstanding leadership. Perhaps you identify with a hero as someone that inspires and teaches us to never quit, one who seeks silver linings and overcomes obstacles with a warrior mentality: a determination to surpass all odds.
When Kirstie Ennis joined the Marine Corps in 2008 at 17, she did not know that she would become a decorated war hero, nor could she have imagined that she would gain her world-wide recognition for her fortitude, inspiring others to grow from their pain.
On June 23, 2012, aerial door gunner Sergeant Kirstie Ennis was on her last tour in Afghanistan when her helicopter crashed, leaving her fighting for her life. The crash left Kirstie with traumatic injuries to her spine, brain and face as well as damage to her leg, and she endured over 40 operations, including the amputation that ended her military career. On her first “Alive Day”, the anniversary of the crash, Kirstie attempted to take her own life, but was fortunately unsuccessful. Her father came to her afterward, looked at her and said “The enemy couldn’t get you, and now you’re going to do it for them?” When that came from her father, something in her shifted, and it was a pivotal moment that steered her life in a new direction.
Soon after, Kirstie was met with new opportunities and challenges when Disabled Sports America came to her with an offer to teach her how to snowboard. She leapt at the chance to get out of the four walls that contained her. Through the mental and emotional fortitude that Kirstie attributes to her military training, she has accomplished more than she ever thought possible. In 2016, she competed in the Invictus Games in rowing, swimming and outdoor cycling, and she holds the distinction of the first female above-knee amputee to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Those initial achievements would introduce her to her new life - a life of love for the outdoors, a life of accomplishments, and a life filled with purpose.
Taking her excitement for the outdoors and combining that with her mission to live her life to “pay it forward”, Kirstie’s latest project is to climb the Seven Summits with each summit climb dedicated to a different charitable cause. Next up is climbing Mount Denali June 1, 2018 where she will lead the first-ever all-female team of veterans to summit, all while benefiting Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit dedicated to constructing homes for returning veterans.
As Kirstie has dedicated her life to protecting and serving others, she has found a natural ally in Pelican Products. Expert Prosthetist Peter Harsch has created a number of specialty prosthetics for Kirstie, each one fine-tuned to a different purpose: snowboarding, rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and running, to name just a few. Yet the extent of her activities, travel, and specialty gear meant that Ennis needed a range of protective travel cases that are as highly calibrated and as tough as she is. When planning her adventures and travel, she needs to account for additional gear that isn’t standard issue because she doesn't have a single leg that she uses for everything.
Kirstie has now collaborated with Pelican to customize protective cases that work for all of her outdoor activities.
Kirstie worked with a Pelican custom case specialist to design a set of custom cases to house her prosthetics, which can cost upwards of $100,000 each, some containing delicately calibrated electronics. Combined with the thoughtful expertise of the custom-designed interiors, crush-proof, dust-proof and water-proof Pelican cases give Kirstie the confidence that her prosthetics are protected at the highest level.
Now, Kirstie is winning world-wide attention, not for a gold medal, but for her first-place attitude. Her message to embrace pain, to accept and grow from discomfort, is one that encourages us all to live beyond our own personal expectations. She affirms a modern-day, open-hearted hero from whom we may learn to better ourselves, and she truly lives by her personal mantra of, “it’s the six inches between the ears and what’s behind your rib cage that really makes a difference.”
To learn more about and support Kirstie’s Mt. Denali Climb benefiting Homes for Heroes visit www.servicetosummit.org.