Posted on November 23, 2015
Editor’s note: The Semper Fi Fund told the story of Kirstie’s helicopter crash and subsequent surgeries in an article published to our site in July 2015. As she faces major surgery, we will continue to be there for her and her family–and for a lifetime, if needed, just as we pledge to all service members we assist.
Take a moment and imagine you’re a Marine veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan who needs leg amputation surgery. How would you prepare to lose your lower left leg?
Well, if you’re Sergeant Kirstie Ennis, you spend more than two months walking 1,000 miles across Great Britain.
“I was motivated to do the walk in order to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice,” she says,
“and to continue serving my military brothers and sisters, since I can no longer serve in the Marine Corps in the capacity that I would like to. Seeing wounded warriors consistently overcome adversities whether mental, physical or emotional is what motivates me.”
Before beginning her remarkable trek across Great Britain, Kirstie had 25 dog tags made. She wanted to bring them with her on her journey to honor 25 Marines.
“Some I lost in Afghanistan, some in Iraq and others to PTSD,” she explains. “Each dog tag was carried 40 miles, then placed at a different significant place throughout the UK with a poem. My idea behind it was that my buddies laid their lives down for complete strangers, so strangers should be able to find a little piece of their story and honor them. The tags included KIA or RIP, name and rank, insertion and extraction date, USMC, and what conflicts they were involved in.”
Kirstie made the trip with several others (“Initially, we all talked quite a bit. We were six strangers, so there was a lot to talk about, but by the 500th mile I was listening to audiobooks.”), but it was the Royal Family’s Prince Harry who helped Kirstie make worldwide headlines by walking with her for several hours and posing for photos.
“Prince Harry is a huge advocate for the military,” she says. “With similar passions and goals, we became friends. It’s refreshing to see someone who has celebrity status or is in a position of power to want to help, with no ulterior motives. I can honestly say he is a genuine person with a heart of gold. He is someone who truly cares about people and their stories.”
It’s easy to understand how worldwide recognition would be one of the highlights of such a journey, but you may be surprised to learn that Kirstie’s most difficult days were some of her most memorable.
“My favorite days were the worst days, the days where I wanted to give up on myself. It was a natural high to realize that I was pushing my limits and boundaries. I had never felt so ‘disabled’ in my entire life at times, but I realized just how much we as a team were accomplishing. Those days would be when we climbed the three highest peaks: Ben Nevis, the highest in Scotland and the entire U.K., Snowdon in Wales and Scafell Pike in England.”
Kirstie’s leg amputation surgery just happened on November 23, and this determined athlete is looking beyond her recovery to competing in the 2018 Paralympic Games.
“I am definitely still planning on competing in South Korea in snowboarding,” she says. “I will strive for a podium no matter what. I am worried about relearning everything I once knew, but I know the surgery will better my quality of life and the current limitations I have now. I will come back better and stronger.”