Kirstie Ennis is the 2019 recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPY Awards. The ESPYs is an event to raise money for cancer research and to honor achievements in sports from the past year. Tillman actually put his NFL career on hold to serve his country, according to People, but was tragically killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. After his death, his wife, family, and friends put together a foundation in his name. The Pat Tillman Award was created five years ago and Tillman’s wife, Marie, gave a statement to People about Ennis receiving the honor. Marie stated, “Pat lived his life with passion and conviction, driving forward in the face of any obstacle that crossed his path. I see that same drive and courage in Kirstie as she continues to push the limits and achieve her best. We are proud to present the Tillman Award to Sgt. Kirstie Ennis for her service and leadership.”
Read on for background on Ennis, why she has been honored at the 2019 ESPYs, her struggles, and her journey to inspire others in our facts below.
1. Ennis Survived a Helicopter Crash in Afghanistan
People reported that when Ennis was just 17 years old, with the support of her parents, she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. In June 2012, after a mosque was overthrown in Musa Qala, Afghanistan, Ennis’ life changed forever. Her helicopter was set to resupply ammunition, transport soldiers and help those in need at the mosque, but the helicopter began to go “nose up”. Ennis recalled, “When they say crash is imminent, you just let go of your machine gun, take a step back and wait. That’s all you can do at that point.”
Fortunately, Ennis survived but she had a long road to recovery and part of her leg ended up amputated. She also underwent 38 surgeries as a result of her injuries. Ennis was lucky to have her family help her through that difficult time.
In a post on her Instagram account, Ennis wrote about the support and tough love from her mother when she was healing from the crash. Ennis stated, “My mom used to look at me sitting in my wheelchair and say, ‘do it your damn self.’ Thanks for being a boss through everything, mom. You’ve been my biggest fan and harshest critic. You’re one of the three reasons I made it to where I am. Love you.”
2. She Tried to Commit Suicide
In a video package for the 2019 ESPYs, Ennis revealed that on the first anniversary of her helicopter crash, in June 2013, she tried to kill herself. She said that she woke up to her father saying that our nation’s enemies didn’t succeed in killing her but she was going to finish the job for them.
Ennis comes from a family filled with Marines, so she followed in their footsteps. In a heartfelt Instagram post, Ennis talked about what it means to her to have a family dedicated to serving their country. Ennis wrote, “I’m one of the lucky ones who was raised by Marine parents. But I was also inspired by my Great Aunt Lydia, one of the first female active-duty Marines during WWII. She’s still alive and kicking at 96 … just a family who bleeds green.”
Reflecting on a time that was so difficult for her to get through, Ennis recently wrote on Instagram, “Even though June is a month full of so much love, for years it has been the one I struggle with the most. June 23 is my alive day and without fail, the closer it gets, I make things harder on myself and the people I care about. Thank you to the friends and family who continue to stick it out and put a smile on my face. If you’re dealing with something similar, know you’re not alone. We will grin and bear it together.”
3. Ennis Attempted to Climb Mount Everest
In May 2019, Ennis attempted to climb Mount Everest so that she could be the first female above-the-knee amputee to summit all seven of the world’s highest peaks. Unfortunately, she fell just short of accomplishing the goal. At just 200 meters from the finish line, Ennis and her team had to turn back, as they were running low on oxygen.
During an interview with People, Ennis laughed, “I tried. There’s no summit that’s worth somebody’s life. When I looked down onto my climbing partners’ faces, it wasn’t [worth it]. Going back down is worth it … It gutted me, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had worked so hard – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. I had spent so much money to get to that point.”
She continued, “My heart went into the bottom of my very fake left leg – but we did the right thing and I’m proud of that. I saw the summit and tasted the air. But peoples’ lives matter and I never, ever turn my back on that. We came home safe and we came home happy.”
Ennis previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and created a project called “Climbing for a Cause”.
4. Kirstie Ennis Has Her Own Foundation
Ennis founded the Kirstie Ennis Foundation to help non-profit organizations across the globe, according to Good Morning America. The mission of the foundation states that, “The Kirstie Ennis Foundation is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization founded to financially support deserving organizations that are dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals and families. We strive to provide education, opportunity, and healing in the outdoors.” And, one of the mantras of the foundation says, “The reason for the non-profit is to distribute funds evenly – for example Everest being a big, sexy mountain will raise the most funds, isn’t fair to other non-profits to be dedicated to smaller mountains.”
Ennis’ “Climbing for a Cause” initiative is a part of her foundation and there are four tiers of sponsors. If you’d like to be a supporter, the packages include the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The Bronze is only $2,500, the Silver is $5,000, the Gold is $10,000, and the Platinum is $20,000. The benefits of being a supporter are listed on the foundation website here.
For those who would like to donate to the foundation, there are multiple ways to do so. The foundation accepts donations via snail mail, as well as Paypal. Find out more info on donating here.
5. Ennis Participated In One of Prince Harry’s Charities
According to People, Ennis caught the attention of Prince Harry when she participated in one of his charities in 2015 – Walking with the Wounded. The Walking with the Wounded’s Walk of Britain charity was a 1,000-mile trek across the England, Scotland, and Wales, alongside other veterans. This was carried out on behalf of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Prince Harry called the walk a challenge that was “formidable in scale”, according to Telegraph, and talked about why it’s important – It helps wounded veterans find jobs. When talking about the launch of the Walk of Britain, Prince Harry said, “Whether someone is leaving the services after 20 years or just a year, or experienced a life-changing injury or not, they are all in need of the same thing: a job. Employment is the key to ensuring their independence and long-term security.”
Prince Harry also previously said that he had hoped the Walk of Britain would remind people about “the determination and resolve of those who have served, and in particular those who have been injured or suffer hidden wounds”.