Jocko Podcast 199 w/ Kirstie Ennis: Pain Makes You Better


Kirstie Ennis is a medically-retired United States Marine Corps sergeant who was critically injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on June 23, 2012.

She was a door gunner and airframes mechanic on the CH-53 helicopter that crashed causing severe facial injuries, brain trauma, damage to spinal discs, and eventually resulting in an above-the-knee leg amputation.

Kirstie has not let her setbacks define her and has pushed forward to achieve more than what many fail to achieve in a lifetime. She has climbed some of the highest peaks in the world including Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, Carstensz, the highest point in Oceania, and Iliniza Norte in Ecuador. She has attempted to climb Mount Everest only to be turned back 200 meters away from the summit. She has plans on scaling all the ‘Seven Summits’ which are the highest peaks in all 7 continents by 2021. Kirstie is also the CFO of HeadCase, an outdoor apparel company and is also the part-owner of Chapter One Hair and Body Lab, a beauty salon in Oceanside, California.

Among others, Kirstie was featured in the cover of ESPN’s “The Body Issue” magazine, has completed a 1000-mile walk across England, Wales, and Scotland to raise money for ‘Walking for the Wounded’ non-profit organization, has been a stuntwoman on ‘Patriots Day’ featuring Mark Wahlberg, and has three masters degrees (Human Behavior, Business Administration, and Public Administration).

She was the guest on Jocko Podcast 199 discussing her childhood, hunger for challenges, enrolling in the USMC, injury, rehabilitation, and ongoing adventures.

Here are our takeaways from the amazing conversation.


Don’t let your setbacks define you. Redefine yourself.


  • Both of Kirstie Ennis’ parents were Marines and after a bit of moving around and when her parents got out of the United States Marine Corps they settled down in the Florida Panhandle where Kirstie did most of her middle school and high school
  • She was a mischievous kid who would sneak out of the window by disconnecting the alarm, disconnect phone lines so that the principal wouldn’t call home and even brought stink bombs to school
  • The school was a joke to her and sports never challenged her and so she wanted to get out soon
  • At the age of 17, she enlisted in the United States Marine Corps when her parents signed for her


  • Kirstie got past the Navy Boot Camp and chose aviation to become an airframe mechanic
  • She was assigned the maintenance of CH-53 helicopters during her first deployment to Afghanistan
  • On her second deployment to Afghanistan, she had a bigger purpose because she was given the task of being a door gunner in addition to her maintenance tasks
  • She never thought that she would get hurt during any of her missions
  • On June 23, 2012, she was on a helicopter that was carrying three army medics, ammunition, mail, and other things when the helicopter crashed causing her grievous injuries
  • The accident caused her severe facial injuries that needed plastic surgeries, spinal discs damages, brain trauma, and an above-the-knee leg amputation
  • She regularly goes for speech therapy due to the trauma to her brain
  • She still has trouble pronouncing the letters ‘R’ and ‘S’
  • Her leg got amputated below the knee and the infection on her amputated leg made the doctors amputate her leg above the knee


  • Kirstie successfully made her way up to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa and back in four and a half days
  • She then successfully climbed Carstensz in Indonesia after a 72-mile hike to the base of the rock face
  • She then went on a Base Camp Trek to Mount Everest to prepare herself for scaling the highest peak in the world
  • She attempted to climb Cotopaxi in Ecuador but had to return back 1500 meters from the summit since she had trouble moving up and her climbing partner was lightheaded and having a headache
  • She then attempted to climb Denali in Alaska, North America where the weather forced her to be pinned down for 17 days during which she would sleep for 90 minutes and get out of the tent for 90 minutes to dig the tent out of the snow. She did not make it to the summit and returned back.
  • Kirstie climbed Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe and then climbed a mountain in Argentina to get ready for the Mount Everest climb
  • On her attempt to climb Mount Everest, she stayed in the base camp for 2 to 3 weeks and stayed alone in Camp 1 and moved to Camp 2 before staying for a night in Camp 3 and 4 and then pushing for the summit. She missed the summit by 200 meters due to low levels of oxygen and a tired crew
  • She went to Cotopaxi in Ecuador for a second time and successfully reached the summit


  • Kirstie walked a 1000 miles throughout England, Scotland, Wales a week before her leg surgery to raise money for the British non-profit, Walking with the Wounded
  • She launched a T-shirt company called HeadCase
  • She opened Chapter One Hair and Body Lab, a beauty salon in Oceanside, California along with her friend Christine Pierce in 2017
  • She was featured in the cover of ESPN’s “The Body Issue” magazine in June 2017


Memento by Christopher Nolan

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