Posted on February 23, 2016
“When I made it to the summit of Mt. Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, I soaked in the view and started to cry,” recalls Cpl Kionte Storey. “It was an amazing feeling to have accomplished something that I couldn’t even fathom or picture in my head before.”
That remarkable moment took place on January 18, 2013—approximately two years and four months after an IED (improvised explosive device) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, claimed Kionte’s right leg, significantly injured his left leg, and gave him a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was the early morning of September 7, 2010,” says Kionte, recalling the day of his injury. “Our squad was going on a patrol to clear out a building. There was an IED in the hallway of this compound. When the blast went off, everything went grey. I attempted to push myself up but couldn’t, so I assumed I was a double amputee below the knee. My legs were on fire, and it just felt like I was hit by a truck.”
Returning home from his second deployment (his first was to Haditha, Iraq, in 2008 and 2009), Kionte first heard about the Semper Fi Fund while recovering at the Navy Medical Center San Diego, also known as Balboa Hospital.
“The Semper Fi Fund helped with getting my first vehicle, with my participation in sport-related events, with closing costs for my first home and with my service dog, Koja. I believe that the Semper Fi Fund is the best organization—they have remained true to their cause and haven’t veered away from their morals or their objective. They truly haven’t forgotten those who served.”
Neither has Kionte, who carried the memories of his Marine brothers with him to the top of Mt. Vinson along with a very important symbol of the Corps.
“As I stood on top of this mountain, I displayed our Marine Corps flag—not only for myself, but also for my brothers who are no longer with us. I lost some very good friends during my deployment to Afghanistan 2010, and as I climbed this mountain and became fatigued, exhausted, and filled with doubt, I just thought of how much they would enjoy climbing this mountain and being there with me.”
“Climbing with a prosthetic is slightly different than having both legs,” the California native notes. “With a prosthetic you worry about parts snapping, breaking, and rusting—if anything gives, not only do you become a liability, but you’re useless to move. I brought a whole extra prosthetic leg with a foot attached. It weighed about 3-5 pounds, but that’s a lot when hiking up a mountain.”
“Coming down was probably the worst part,” he noted, “as going downhill with my prosthetic is just so painful. The adrenaline was gone and every moment going down wasn’t as exciting as going up.”
“The whole climb, though, was something that you can only find in a movie or picture in your dreams,” he says. “If there is a heaven, then this would be how I would describe it, a beautiful white place full of tranquility and peace.”
Today, when Kionte isn’t working full-time in the security field, he spends his time training in track and field. He loves traveling, is planning on returning to school in the near future, and is hoping to compete in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter events in the 2016 Paralympics.
“I don’t look too far into the future,” Kionte says, “as I like to take one step at a time. That’s what helps me not to stress about life. I’ve kept my head up and fought each day to be better and to make others around me happy. Anything is possible if we believe in ourselves, despite what we’ve been through.”
“If we quit on ourselves,” he adds, “then we have also quit on others around us who believe in us.”