After 44 surgeries and an amputation, Marines veteran Sgt. Kirstie Ennis given a new Glenwood Springs home
After serving in Afghanistan and recently summiting Mount Kilimajaro, former Marine Corps Sgt. Kirstie Ennis is ready to call Glenwood Springs home.
On Saturday, Building Homes for Heroes presented Ennis with her new home in Ironbridge. A parade of neighbors, volunteers and local scouts was led through the neighborhood, culminating in a presentation of Ennis’ new home.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Ennis said, recognizing it’s been quite the journey to get here to the Roaring Fork Valley.
On June 23, 2012, during Ennis’ second tour in Afghanistan, the helicopter on which she was an aerial gunner went down. Ennis sustained a shattered jaw, broken nose, fractured spine and a severe leg injury. Since then, she’s had 44 surgeries and had her left leg completely amputated.
Her last surgery took place in November 2015. She summited Mount Kilimanjaro four months later.
Ennis’ new home has a stellar view of Mount Sopris. Ninth District Attorney Jeff Cheney, himself a veteran, spoke at the Saturday event, saying he is sure she will summit Sopris too.
But Ennis isn’t here in the valley just for mountaineering.
In 2013, during one of her hospital stays, Ennis was given the opportunity to hit the slopes with the organization Disabled Sports USA. That’s when she discovered snowboarding, a sport she fell quickly and deeply in love with.
“Snowboarding is one of my first true loves,” Ennis said.
She is now training to compete in the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“What I like about [snowboaring and mountaineering] is that its something you do by yourself and be totally self-reliant — which in this day and age is pretty rare,” she said.
The location of her new home to such activities has Ennis excited.
“Everything that makes me me is here,” she said. “Fly fishing, hunting, mountaineering, snowboarding, I have everything I love to do within 30 miles of me. Not many people are that lucky.”
As for the home itself, it was given to Ennis mortgage-free by Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that has built and given 127 homes to veterans since its inception in 2001. The home was built by RM Construction and was designed with Ennis’ needs in mind. The home is one story, because, as Ennis said, “stairs are my nemesis.”
Falling is a real risk for Ennis, so minimum carpet, slip-resistant flooring and ample handrails were important in the new home. Ennis doesn’t like using a wheelchair in public — “I don’t like having people look down on me,” she said — but she uses one once home in order to preserve her body. Because of that, the new home has wide hallways and doorways.
Beyond the physical needs the home fills for Ennis, is just the principle of having a place to call her own.
From the military to her recovery, a lot of her recent life has been lived out of suitcases with her belongings — even ones from her last tour in Afghanistan — being held in storage.
She said she thinks of living near Glenwood Springs as her “mecca,” a place where she can find peace, solitude and put down roots.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have Building Homes for Heroes and the Glenwood Springs community be along my journey for a lot more than just building a house,” Ennis said.
Stephanie Keister, director of marketing for Ironbridge, told Ennis at the Saturday presentation that she thinks they’re the lucky ones.
“As incredible as you might think it is to have a home here, we think it’s more incredible that we get have you as part of our community.”