MILTON — Wounded veteran Kirstie Ennis, a Milton High School graduate, recently hiked to the summit of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for East Africa rural communities’ need for clean drinking water.
Ennis was in Tanzania, a country on the east coast of Africa, March 3-13. Five of those days, she and members of The Waterboys organization hiked 48 miles to Africa’s highest point, she said.
The Waterboys, the Chris Long Foundation’s signature project, connects former and current National Football League players to the public to provide water to third-world countries in need. The group hires crews locally to do so. Wells serve up to 7,500 people, according to the organization’s website, waterboys.org.
“I was blown away by the people,” Ennis said, visiting the Longido Secondary School in Tanzania near Kenya’s border. “There was pain and agony on their faces. You could see it but they don’t let it stop them … The kids were just so happy,” she said.
The youths were excited to have local access to water but more so for the visit, according to Ennis.
“If the world took time to invest $6 billion — nothing to the world — everybody would have clean water. It’s insane to me. We struggle for an entire year to raise $150,000 to install two to three wells in Tanzania,” Ennis said.
Ennis traveled and worked with current and former NFL players like New England Patriot Chris Long, retired San Diego Charger Nick Hardwick, retired Seattle Seahawk Mark Pattison, retired Dallas Cowboy Cory Procter, retired Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, retired Pittsburgh Steeler Chad Brown, UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora, and retired San Diego Charger Luis Castillo.
However, celebrity isn’t a factor for Ennis.
“I’m not impressed by status, celebrities or actors,” she said. “I’m impressed with real people doing real things; good hearts, right places, right intentions, making a difference; willing to make yourself vulnerable.
“When I met Prince Harry, I didn’t call him that. I called him Harry,” she said. “It’s the same with the NFL. I was blown away by their raw generosity and compassion. I wouldn’t have remained friends with Harry if not for where his heart is.
“It’s cool working with Chris Long. He won a Super Bowl ring. That’s great, but let’s talk about you as a person. I’m the biggest fan of humility.”
A female amputee, such as Ennis, had not reached Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit before, she said.
Ennis started the hike in shorts and, by the time she reached the 19,341-foot peak, she was covered in protective clothing due to the weather.
“At night … if it wasn’t below zero (in temperature) it was at zero,” she said.
Ennis’ challenges differed from what people might expect, she said.
“The misconception is day four should have been easy because it was relatively flat — 5 miles — and only 1,000 feet in elevation,” Ennis said.
However, this kind of hiking, she said, was challenging; she felt that climbing was easier.
Traveling downhill was a challenge, too, Ennis said, but Cory Procter, Nate Boyer and Chris Long stayed in front of her.
“It was a team effort,” she said.
Ennis still technically lives in Pensacola, she said, but is moving to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to train for the 2018 Paralympics.
“My goal is still to compete in snowboarding,” Ennis said. “This year was a hard one for me due to a late injury to my leg, the loss of my knee … It threw snowboarding off … Hopefully next season I’ll be back to normal.”
In addition, Ennis is working on summiting another mountain, Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America.
She wants to form a team of all-female veterans, which purportedly would be the first time such a group reached Denali’s peak.