Climbing mountains: Veteran overcomes athletic obstacles, strives to pursue more

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Kirstie Ennis considers herself a fortunate person. The retired Marine sergeant has pursued snowboarding, mountain climbing and more. She plans to run marathons and swim the English Channel. She has created her own foundation for improving the quality of life for families and individuals. Ennis has three master’s degrees and is pursuing her doctorate.

Ennis also only has one leg.

She was the keynote speaker for the 2nd annual Kansas Student Veterans Consortium held in the K-State Student Union Ballroom on Saturday. The event travels to a different host school each year. Ennis spoke on overcoming adversity.

In June 2012, Ennis was in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan and sustained damage to her spine, her right frontal lobe and left leg. She said she still considers herself a fortunate person.

All that Ennis has achieved occurred after her accident. When asked why she has done all these things, Ennis said it seems simple to her.

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Kirstie Ennis, a medically retired Marine Corps veteran, athlete, activist and adventurer shared her story at the Kansas Student Veterans Consortium. (Photo courtesy of K-State Events)

“Quite simply, it was because I didn’t have female role models when I was in the hospital,” Ennis said. “There were plenty of men who were amputees who had people they could talk to in similar situations. Me, I was one woman and didn’t feel included.”

When pursing her first master’s degree, Ennis said she was told she would fail. This only made her work harder. She paid for the degree out of pocket as the risk of failing was seen as too great for her to receive financial aid.

That is only one of the many things Ennis has accomplished. Currently, she is pursing climbs of the seven highest points on Earth — one on each continent. When done, she will be the first woman amputee to do so. Next week, she will begin her climb of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. She also wants to be the first woman amputee to snowboard down Everest.

“Climbing isn’t easy and it isn’t fun, I am not going to lie about that, but the physical part is the easy part,” Ennis said. “But when you get to the summit, it is all worth it. You look down and see how far you have come.”

Ennis said she climbs with heart and purpose. She has received letters from many admirers, which pushes her further.

“Even though I have one leg, I just put one foot in front of the other and keep going,” Ennis said. “Now, I can’t stop. Better yet, I won’t stop.”

She added that her injuries don’t define her, just as they don’t control anyone else. People are in control of their circumstances.

“Push harder, go that extra step and make peace with pain,” Ennis said.

Ennis serves her country in other capacities. Before her injuries, she wanted to be a career Marine. Now, she speaks at military functions and with other amputees. She said she hopes to make a difference and serve her country in this way.

Another way Ennis said she hopes to do this is through education, which is the focus of her doctorate degree.

“My master’s are in psychology, business administration and public administration,” Ennis said. “With my doctorate in education, I am preparing for a career once I can’t climb mountains or run marathons anymore. I want to help the next generation.”

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I’m Bailey Britton, a freshman from Colby, KS. I am double majoring in print journalism and secondary education with a focus in English and journalism. This semester I am of the assistant news editors. Writing and reading have always been passions of mine. When I have free time, I like to play tennis and be active or curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee.