Wounded Warrior Kirstie Ennis Kicks Ass As The First Vet To Grace The Cover Of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue

Health & Fitness
Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis was critically injured during a helicopter crash in Afghanistan while serving as a door gunner on June 23, 2012.
Photo via The Veterans Project

Marine veteran, mountain climber, amputee athlete, and all-around badass Kirstie Ennis recently made the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue, the first veteran to grace its cover. The yearly spread features nude and semi-nude photos of male and female athletes from all sports and vocations, both on and off the field, as a testament to the perseverance of both the human body and will — something Ennis captures perfectly.


When @espn asked me to be apart of their #BodyIssue, I was honored. When I found out I made the cover, I actually cried. Initially, I was reluctant to make myself so vulnerable by sharing my story and taking the photos. People tell me I'm strong quite often, but really Im strong because of the people around me. This ones for every man, woman, or child facing some sort of adversity. You control your circumstances, they don't control you. Find your passion, and let it consume you. If a little one legged lady can climb rocks and chase mountains, I promise you, you can do whatever it is your heart desires. Thank you to everyone involved! #climbing #climbon #leftlegless On a lighter note, if you don't like butt cracks or tattoos, don't look! 😉

A post shared by Kirstie Ennis (@kirstie_ennis) on

"Find your passion, and let it consume you,” Ennis wrote on Instagram, where she posted a photo of the new cover on June 30 . “If a little one-legged lady can climb rocks and chase mountains, I promise you, you can do whatever it is your heart desires.”

For Ennis, her decision to pose for the magazine came down to one thing: Don’t set any limits for yourself.

“I really thought about it and thought about the demographic and the people that would see it and I really realized that it wasn’t about me anymore,”  she told People magazine. “Any man, woman, or child facing some sort of adversity has a potential to be inspired by these pictures and seeing somebody who only has been missing their leg for a few years go out and do things that she wasn’t doing with two legs.”

Related: Stand And Deliver: That ‘One Leg Monster’ On War, Pain, And Powerlifting »

On June 23, 2012, Ennis was critically injured in a helicopter crash while serving as an aerial door gunner in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, suffering a traumatic brain injury that resulted in memory loss, as well as severe damage to her face, spine, left leg and shoulders.

“I was kind of ripped apart,” Ennis said of her injuries in a previous interview with The Veterans Project. “The last thing I remember was the screaming I heard. I was kind of in-and-out from there. My leg was mangled and snapped, my right shoulder was destroyed, I could fit my fist through my face and my jaw was completely destroyed. … From that moment on, I was just fighting to stay awake.”

After years of surgeries and physical rehabilitation, Ennis’ left leg was amputated below the knee in November 2015, but an infection resulted in a second amputation above the knee. A lifelong athlete, Ennis returned to sports as part of her recovery, competing in the 2016 Invictus Games and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this past April, and is believed to be one of the first female above-the-knee amputee to do so.

“It’s the six inches between your ears and what’s behind your ribcage that really makes the difference,” Ennis said in her interview with ESPN. “Forty-four surgeries, years of therapies, years of learning how to use my brain and body again, but I’ve yet to let it beat me down.”

WATCH NEXT:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Kirstie Ennis received a Purple Heart. (Updated 7/4/17, 12:01 a.m. EST).

A UH-60 Black Hawk departs from The Rock while conducting Medevac 101 training with members of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Feb. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.

At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.

Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."

Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.

Read More Show Less

The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.

Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.

Read More Show Less

I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.

Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.

Read More Show Less

An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps

"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."

news
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.

At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.

Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.

"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."

She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."

It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.

The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.

But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.

The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

Read More Show Less