The Marine Vet Turned Pro Athlete Who Is Raising Awareness For Wounded Warriors

Photo courtesy of Kirstie Ennis

Editor’s Note: This Bob Woodruff Foundation article originally appeared on the blog of the Foundation, Writing for Heroes.

Determination is a word that’s long been a part of this Marine’s vocabulary.

And because of her strong will, medically retired Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis will represent the United States on behalf of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in Walking With The Wounded’s Walk of Britain expedition.

The Milton, Florida, resident will join fellow U.S. service member Andrew Bement, and wounded British veterans to trek 1,000 miles  —  through Scotland, Wales, and England  —  in an effort to highlight the extraordinary determination of those injured in combat.

Ennis joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17, shortly after she graduated Milton High School in 2008 , with not only her diploma , but an associate’s degree from Pensacola Junior College.

Joining came with a small hitch. Because Ennis wasn't 18, she would need parental permission. Her father, who had served in the Corps, hoped she'd continue her college studies first, but he reluctantly said yes after making her promise she'd be taking a desk job.

Ennis would owe her dad an apology.

"My dad didn't talk to me for some time after that," Ennis told PEOPLE magazine in an interview in June.

Sgt. Kirstie Ennis aboard her CH-53 helicopter.

Far from a desk, Ennis served as a helicopter door gunner and airframes mechanic on the CH-53D/E Sea Stallion, with two deployments to Afghanistan. She was highly motivated and loved being a Marine.

Ennis planned to make a career out of the Corps. Orders to the drill field were on her horizon.

Yet her world came crashing down all around her, literally, June 23, 2012.

While performing combat resupply missions to Helmand, Afghanistan, her helicopter went down. Ennis has little memory of the accident, but believes her team was being spotlighted by insurgents beforehand.

Fortunately, all eight crewmembers survived; however, the crash led to Ennis to undergo 38 surgeries for injuries including facial trauma, damage to her cervical and lumbar spine, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, and left foot limb salvage.

Ennis’ recovery has included speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, vestibular therapy, and cognitive therapy over the past three years.

It also meant the end of her career.

Never one to let a challenge stand in her way, she has found healing in competitive sports.

“I am extremely blessed to still be here today, because I lost brothers and sisters due to the war … But I know they have been looking down on me, giving me the extra push to keep going,” Ennis says. “I cannot quit, nor give up because of them. I am here, breathing, living, and walking for them — I was lucky enough to come home; I'm carrying their memory with me and will continue telling their stories.”

Ennis took gold in the 2013 Marine Corps Trials for rifle shooting. She received three gold medals in swimming at the 2013 Warrior Games.

She has completed several triathlons, and finished an Ironman. Currently, she is a 2018 Paralympic hopeful in snowboarding , currently ranked fifth internationally.

It was through Ennis’ involvement with Disabled Sports USA that she was introduced to the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

“All I need is the confidence that I can continue overcoming challenges regardless of the disabilities I carry now,” Ennis says.

Though the Walk of Britain does not begin until Aug. 22, the Bob Woodruff Foundation brought Ennis to London on June 4 to meet the team and the hosts of the event, Walking With The Wounded, a charity in the United Kingdom established to support the employment aspirations and vocational outcomes of wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, those who have been physically, mentally and socially disadvantaged by their service.

It has already gained the support of Prince Harry, who is is expected to join a portion of the walk.

Ennis looks forward to meeting the prince again, as she did when he visited the Warrior Games, in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2013.

More importantly, Ennis looks forward to bonding with her British teammates.

“I want to gain knowledge, and in turn motivation from hearing and sharing stories with the team, gain new friendships and express my appreciation to my allied brothers and sisters,” Ennis says. “I want the public, the world, to gain awareness as to just how precious our military and heroes are.”

The Bob Woodruff Foundation seeks sponsors for the Walk of Britain, which now includes the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation. Donations can be made online here.

(From left to right) Chris Osman, Chris McKinley, Kent Kroeker, and Talon Burton

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