Kirstie Ennis, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who served from August 2008 to May 2014, will give the keynote speech at the inaugural Valley of the Sun Suitcase Gala on Oct. 5, which benefits the Marine Raider Foundation — an organization that provides support to raiders during transition into civilian life, tragedy assistance and survivor support, family resiliency and legacy and preservation.
While serving, Ennis lost her leg in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and after more than 40 surgeries, the 28-year-old veteran is on a quest to climb the Seven Summits on one leg by 2021.
Now, the Glenwood Springs, Colorado resident is the founder and president of The Kirstie Ennis Foundation, which financially supports nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to improving the quality of life of others and strives to provide education, opportunity and healing in the outdoors.
At the Gala, Ennis and emcee and decorated veteran Derek Herrera will help raise funds for the MARSOC Foundation, a nonprofit that supports World War II Marine Raiders, active-duty and former Marine Raiders and raider families.
Guests of the Gala are encouraged to bring a carry-on instead of a clutch for the evening, as the night filled with fundraising, dinner and inspirational guest speakers will end with a couple who will be whisked away in a private jet by Cutter Aviation for a two-night getaway in Santa Barbara.
We spoke with Ennis ahead of her keynote speech about her journey, what she’s looking forward to for the Gala and goals for the future.
AZ Big Media: What did it mean to you to be recognized and receive the 2019 Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPY Awards?
Kirstie Ennis: It was a tremendous honor to be recognized in the memory of a true American hero. It gave me another reason to continue my mission unwaveringly. To be celebrated in a room full of elite athletes and public figures allowed me to have a platform to inspire people to use more of their potential.
ABM: How did becoming the keynote speaker for the Sun Suitcase Gala come about? What was your reaction to speaking and sharing your journey? Why are you excited to attend and speak at the Valley of the Sun Gala?
KE: I can say that I did not hesitate when Marine Raider Foundation asked me to speak. The moment I confirmed that my schedule was open, I agreed. I have done a ton of public speaking, everything from opening for Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden to motivational locker room talks to NFL teams at the Super Bowl. But events like the Valley of the Sun Gala are ones that I hold near and dear to my heart. While I cannot serve the military community on active duty, I can still be involved in growing support for it and building a brotherhood for those of us who no longer serve. These events are times when I am reunited with old friends and fellow service members and a time to exchange stories with new ones.
ABM: How does the Marine Raider Foundation and organizations like it make a difference in the lives of active duty and veterans in the military?
KE: The Marine Raider Foundation reestablishes community once we are out of the military; provides accountability amongst ourselves and peers; financial support for when we need it the most; provides opportunity that could otherwise be unattainable; creates a means to repurpose ourselves; reminds us that people do care and that sacrifice isn’t overlooked.
ABM: How does sharing your journey impact you and how do you hope it inspires others?
KE: Sharing my journey gives me a purpose and a reason to continue moving forward with my goals. It gives me the platform to inspire people to use more of the potential — and show that given you are willing to work for it, your possibilities are endless. I hope people watch me and hear my story and it challenges them to be better, faster, and stronger in their day-to-day and even achieving their long-term goals. The mantra that I try to share is it’s the six inches between your ears and what’s behind your rib cage that dictates what you are capable of.
ABM: What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your life and how did that impact you?
KE: My recovery. It has been an uphill battle and will never fully be over. However, it gave me a new appreciation for life and how to live it and respect it. My struggles have also turned me into a person of resiliency with a fierce stubbornness. I think my injuries have also taught me to never settle.
ABM: What are some of your future professional and personal goals including your current one of tackling the Seven Summits by 2021?
KE: On top of my three master’s degrees, complete my doctorate in education. Bike the great divide ride. Swim the English Channel. World marathon challenge (seven marathons, seven continents, seven days). Maintain closing 15 listings a year in real estate in the Roaring Fork Valley. Ensure my businesses thrive, open one more.
ABM: How would you describe yourself in two words and why?
KE: Grit and grace. I am rough around the edges but can adapt to any given situation.
Information: Valley of the Sun Suitcase Gala, Oct. 5, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Chateau Luxe, 1175 E. Lone Cactus Dr., Phoenix. www.raideraz.givesmart.com