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A female Marine Corps veteran who lost a leg as a result of a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan recently became the first veteran to appear on the cover of ESPN’s annual Body Issue.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, who has endured two amputations, dozens of surgeries, and years of therapy, didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity to be a cover girl at first.
“I really thought about it and thought about the demographic and the people that would see it and I really realized that it wasn’t about me anymore,” Ennis told People magazine. “Any man, woman, or child facing some sort of adversity has a potential to be inspired by these pictures and seeing somebody who only has been missing their leg for a few years go out and do things that she wasn’t doing with two legs.”
A June 23, 2012, helicopter crash in Helmand, Afghanistan, left Ennis with severe injuries to her brain, spine, face, shoulders, and left leg, and despite doctors’ best efforts to save Ennis’ leg, it was amputated below the knee nearly three years after the crash. Then, due to an infection, a second amputation was performed above the knee about a month later.
“When I was lying in a hospital bed and my neck was broken, my leg was all messed up, my arms were mangled, my whole face had to be reconstructed, I was in shambles and I had huge self-esteem issues. My first thoughts were, Am I going to be able to walk again? Wear a dress again? How will people look at me? Who’s going to find me attractive?” Ennis said of her initial injuries, noting that she went through a phase of being “very uncomfortable” with her body.
But Ennis eventually found solace in sports.
“Things I wasn’t doing with two legs I was doing with one leg,” she said, adding that it “did so much” for her confidence.
Now, besides gracing the cover of ESPN, Ennis has become the first female above-the-knee amputee to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro and is currently training as a 2018 U.S. Paralympic snowboard team hopeful.