Ironbridge resident Kirstie Ennis took home the Pat Tillman Award at last week’s ESPYs
Recognizing her service to others, and the inspiring courage and determination to not let physical limitations slow her down, former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant and Ironbridge resident Kirstie Ennis received the Pat Tillman Award Wednesday night in Los Angeles at ESPN’s the ESPYs.
The award is named after former NFL safety and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who died during active service in Afghanistan after he returned to the military following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 27-year-old Army Ranger was killed in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan in 2004.
The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to commemorate his legacy, “and honor an individual with a strong connection to sports who has a served others in a way that echoes his legacy,” according to a news release.
Ennis has had more than a dozen surgeries — including amputation of her left leg above the knee — after suffering facial trauma, a traumatic brain injury, cervical and lumbar spine trauma, and bilateral shoulder damage in a June 23, 2012 helicopter crash in Afghanistan. It was her second tour of duty in the country.
Turning to sports during her recovery, Ennis created the Kirstie Ennis Foundation to provide education and opportunity in the outdoors and to support other nonprofits dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals and families.
During that time, Ennis was awarded a home in the Ironbridge community outside Glenwood Springs in September 2017. That allowed her to be closer to Aspen, where the former Marine sergeant trains as a snowboarder in hopes of competing in the Paralympics in the near future.
Prior to receiving the award, Ennis was in the process of trying to summit Mt. Everest, which would have been her fifth summit on five continents. She continues her pursuit of seven peaks on all seven continents.
Ennis and her team were 200 meters from the Everest summit when they had to turn back due to dangerously low oxygen levels. Once back stateside in late May, Ennis found out she was going to receive the Pat Tillman award at this year’s ESPYs.
“When they called me, I’d been to the ESPYs two other years, so I didn’t really want to go back out,” Ennis said. “I was actually politely trying to decline.
“I am not a fan of all the glitz and the glamour and the red carpet, and LA is just too hot. But then the producers came back and told me I had stage time.”
She said her mind went to a possible female award, so she figured she could have someone accept it for her.
“But when they told me I was going to receive the Pat Tillman award, I was immediately all-in,” she said. “The Pat Tillman award is the most amazing award to win, so I felt so honored to even be considered.”
Talking to Marie Tillman, Pat Tillman’s widow, Ennis said she was encouraged to continue doing what she’s doing, and told her why she was chosen for the award.
“She said it’s because of the way I’m living my life and my service above myself,” Ennis said. “She told me that she felt there was no one more deserving for this award, which really touched me.”
Ennis said that conversation really reenforced what she has been doing these last few years.
“It’s really rare to be 28 years old and feel like I know my purpose twice in life; that was the biggest takeaway for me.”
Winning an award requires an acceptance speech, which Ennis admitted took her out of her comfort zone. But she had a sincere message for the athletes in attendance, and those watching at home.
“It has taken a village to get me to this point in my life, and I would not be where I am now without the amazing people surrounding me,” she said of her acceptance speech. “I wanted there to be a lot of heart and soul that came through … and to let people know they’re not alone.”
Before walking up onto the stage last Wednesday evening, Ennis watched a video about her journey with the rest of the audience. The video ran roughly four minutes and was filled with emotion, which kick-started a wave of emotions for the former Marine.
After Usher announced Ennis as the award winner, the audience gave her a standing ovation as she walked up on stage. The ovation lasted three minutes.
“It was pretty wild,” Ennis said. “As they played that video, I was super emotional. I only saw it one time before they played it at the ESPYs. It’s easy to reflect on things, but in that moment that my feet hit the stage to go up there it all subsided.
“… With all that support that I felt in that moment, it’s hard to be nervous there. It was just a special, special moment.”
Back in the valley after a busy travel schedule early in the year, Ennis is set to enjoy some downtime before attempting to summit Cotapaxi in Ecuador, and helping children in need of prosthetics. She also plans to climb Denali next June.
Aside from her climbing exploits, Ennis intends to bike the Great Divide in the near future, while also swimming the English Channel.
And, after that, maybe seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, she said.
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