Prince Harry's Hero Amputee (and Ex-US Marine) Hopes to Inspire Young Women – By Climbing Everest
"I dictate what I am capable of," says Kirstie Ennis
Former U.S. Marine Kirstie Ennis won hearts when she was hugged by Prince Harry at the end of a 1,000-mile walk around Britain.
Now, inspired by the prince and with steely determination and self-motivation, Ennis is aiming to be the first woman with a leg amputated above the knee to climb Mount Everest.
Following her grueling hike around Britain in 2015, she underwent surgery to remove much of her lower left leg. But further operations were needed and she had more of the leg amputated, to above the knee, making her convalescence and recovery more painful.
The restless ex-servicewoman, who was severely injured when a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan in 2012, has been setting herself new targets as she pushes herself to new heights since scaled Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2017.
Ennis, who arrives in Nepal later this month to start her expedition up Everest, tells PEOPLE, “I want to redefine what it is to be disabled. When people say, ‘She’s missing her leg, that must be terrible,’ yes, it is hard – but I dictate what I am capable of. I want to encourage people to write their own definitions and chose how to live your life.”
She adds, “When I was in the hospital I didn’t have that role model to look up to. Whether it was from the self-esteem side of things, or the mental, physical, emotional side of my injuries. I want to be that for other people – for a young woman trying to embrace her differences and own some scars or whatever she has going on with her body.”
She is a testament to programs like the Endeavour Fund and Harry’s Invictus Games, which inspire former service members to look beyond their injuries. “I don’t compete with other people – but I always compete with myself. I have walked 1,000 miles, what else can I do?’ ”
While she was recovering from some of her procedures in 2016, Harry sent flowers and cookies and she keeps people at the palace posted on her latest adventures.
“He is one of the few who are using his platform to truly make a difference to the lives of everybody,” she says. “As servicemen and women, we need someone to keep our feet to the fire to keep moving forward in our lives. Whether we are dealing with injuries of the transition from military to civilians”
“We need people like him doing the job he is doing, as far as inspiring and motivating us and pushing us to be more, to not settle and let us not be defined by the four or five years of service,” Ennis adds.
As she makes the ascent – with climbing partner Christopher Pollock, a videographer, and some local guides – Ennis hopes to raise money and awareness for her foundation, which provides help for projects that target “education, opportunity, and healing in the outdoors.”
“Every mountain is so different and so special,” she explains. “Everest is the pinnacle of all – it is the tallest mountain in the world, with a 25 percent death rate.”
There are particular issues for a woman with a prosthetic – and she carries two different knees and three different feet for the varying terrain.
“Everyone on the mountain calls me the freak, because I move really well at altitude. I have to climb with people who can keep up with me,” she adds. “We have to listen to my body. When my leg feels good, we’re moving.”
Ennis, from Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado, hopes the expedition will be over by the end of May.
“I’m not afraid of death, but I am terrified of getting frostbite on my residual limb as I don’t have much leg left,” she says.
“Things like this make me feel the most alive. Even at those moments when you’re in pain or things don’t feel right, you feel things. You feel the things you can’t see like color, feel sound. You are so present in those moments it makes it feel special,” Ennis shares. “I’m trying to write history and set a precedent for other people. I hope a little girl sees me and says, ‘I can do it – and I can do better than Kirstie.’”