"I just wanted to remind people that I was the same person with or without my leg.”
MILTON — A 26-year-old Milton woman and Marines Corps veteran amputee has gained international attention after landing the cover of ESPN’s coveted annual Body Issue.
Kirstie Ennis, who was born in Fort Walton Beach and calls Milton her hometown — but now lives in California and Colorado — was flying in Afghanistan on June 23, 2012 as an aerial gunner when enemy forces shot down her helicopter. Six of her fellow Marines died in the crash, and Ennis lost her left leg.
After the crash, Ennis obtained a prosthetic leg and has spent her time pushing her body to its physical limits, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, getting into rock climbing and adaptive snowboarding.
“I needed something to remind myself that I can still be confident, so I started to get into extreme sports,” Ennis said over the phone from California, where she was in town for Thursday night’s ESPY awards. “Initially it was a selfish thing, I just wanted to remind people that I was the same person with or without my leg.”
But the more Ennis pushed herself, the more other people started to take notice. People Magazine profiled Ennis in 2015, and she made headlines after gifting Prince Harry a fallen comrade’s dog tags in England later that year.
She said she was contacted by ESPN who, after interviewing her, decided to make her the first veteran on the cover of a Body Issue, an annual publication by ESPN The Magazine that photographs nude and semi-nude athletes.
“The things I’ve been doing just aren’t being done, especially by women,” she said. “Especially the rock climbing and the mountaineering. By going out and climbing Kilimanjaro and attempting the seven summits, it gets attention from a variety of people, and the editors of ESPN heard my story.”
Ennis said she hopes to use her platform to inspire others, including veterans and amputees, to achieve their goals no matter their circumstances.
“Our bodies are so resilient and what we’re capable of is pretty amazing ... it’s pretty impressive and we should be proud of that,” she said. “But it’s the 6 inches between your ears and what’s behind your rib cage that makes a difference.”