It has been a summer of firsts for USMC Sergeant Kirstie Ennis.
After becoming the first veteran to pose for ESPN the Magazine Body Issue last month, she went on to become the first above-the-knee amputee female veteran to summit the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, which is considered to be the most technical of the Seven Summits, The Heroes Project announced Wednesday.
Led by Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz, Ennis and her team reached the top of Carstensz after a grueling 12-hour push that saw them navigate the summit ridge while enduring the full force of a storm that had previously delayed their final leg to the 16,024-foot peak.
After celebrating and snapping pictures, the team then had to immediately descend to the safety of base camp, where they waited for a helicopter to take them down a mountain to Timika, Western Papua.
The epic feat began on July 16 with a five-day stay at base camp to acclimate to the weather and altitude, while waiting out dangerous flash waterfalls. After further weather delays at high camp, they made the historic climb and reached the top of Carstensz Pyramid at 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday.
This is not the first dangerous climb that Ennis has achieved. The aspiring Paralympian — who is training for the 2018 U.S. snowboard team — previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, becoming the first female above-the-knee amputee to summit Africa’s highest peak.
Her eventual goal, she told ESPN, is to stand at the top of each of the Seven Summits.
“One of the things I learned [after the amputation] is that it’s what’s behind your rib cage and the six inches between your ears that matters,” she told ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk.
Ennis’ injury came in 2012 when a helicopter she was riding in crashed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. She suffered severe trauma to her brain, spine, face, shoulders and left leg. After three years and more than three dozen surgeries, doctors amputated her leg below the knee in November 2015, and later removed her knee due to an infection.
After “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,” the former aerial door gunner went on to compete in rowing, swimming and outdoor cycling at the 2016 Invictus Games, before moving on to snowboarding.
“I will never complain about being an amputee — I’m alive, happy, healthy — but I would do damn near anything to have my left knee back,” she said.
Ennis joined the Marine Corps at age 17 in Pensacola, Florida, and went on to serve for six years.
The Heroes Project, created by Medvetz, a former Hell’s Angel biker, is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that leads mountaineering expeditions with gravely wounded veterans, enabling them to rediscover their strength and pride by scaling the world’s most challenging summits.