• Behind the Scenes for Aconcagua

    By: Kirstie Ennis

“Who is David and Why MVP?”

I stumbled upon the non-profit Merging Vets and Players (MVP), nearly by accident. A now dear friend of mine, Nate Boyer who is a former Green Beret and once Seattle Seahawks player, helped found the LA based organization alongside NFL Top Insider, Jay Glazer. Nate reached out to me on social media, said he admired what I was doing, then extended an invite to experience what exactly it is that MVP is doing for two of the communities I love the most – veterans and athletes.

When I showed up at Unbreakable Performance in Los Angeles, a mere three-hour drive from where I lived at the time, I was blown away. The gym itself is a special place that lives by the mantra, “Success breeds success.” In a day where everything is a competition and criticized, it was refreshing to see people building one another up and pushing each other to greatness. In or out side of the gym, we have a lot to learn from the Unbreakable way of life.

Working out in a group setting has never really been something I enjoyed post injury due to the time it takes to transition through the movements and adapt on the prosthetic. However, the staff of Unbreakable and the volunteers of MVP helped me navigate the process – and I was right back into finding a new “norm.” For the first time since my injuries, I boxed and did an MMA workout. It reminded me of the feeling I had when I first snowboarded – trying something new gave me the confidence that I could do anything regardless of my lack of limb.

After sweating, releasing some endorphins, and ultimately letting our guard down throughout the strength and conditioning and MMA workout, it was time to circle up on the mat. Whether you are a Veteran or a retired professional athlete, it takes a lot of backbone to make yourself vulnerable – to open up about struggling when you have been the one to be so strong through your career. Veterans and athletes opened up about their trauma, drug addictions, homelessness, family issues, and faulty treatment programs.

“You’re fucking different! Be proud you are different,” Glazer reminded everyone. What I witnessed that first day at MVP was magic — so much so that I continued going back weekly even if it meant spending six hours a day in the car. I did not think I had personal trauma to process in the moment, but hearing the words and stories from others gave me another reason to keep fighting.

My recovery has been anything but easy or pain free. My 44th surgery was in November 2016 to revise what was left of some of my femur. After having a Hell of a time with my amputation recovery, I resorted to private practice with the help of a dear friend, Steve Peeples in Wichita, Kansas. As you can imagine, I knew all of three people in Kansas. Recovering in a town where you feel alone is a struggle all in itself. However, with no hesitation at all, my Merging Vets and Players family made it a priority to check on me every single day with dozens of messages and often times videos and pictures.

When I came back to MVP LA after surgery, it was the warmest welcome I could ever receive. I sobbed at the amount of love and support that these people, this family, had for me.

Shortly after, I was introduced to David Rendon; an Army combat Veteran and MVPer. David was quiet at first, but calls himself the Veteran Hiker on social media. Being that I like to think mountains are my thing, I was intrigued and followed along on his journey. David has a 14-year-old daughter who he loves, and who he loves to talk about more than he does about himself. I cherish the relationship I have with my dad and instantly recognized and appreciated the love he has for his daughter. When a man is a dad, and not just a father, it speaks volumes.

I built a trust with and an admiration for David and in March 2018, I invited him to go on a training climb of Mt. Baldy with my former climbing partner and me. I enjoyed hiking with David because he wasn’t afraid to ask me questions that some may be wary of asking, and he also expressed his interest in watching the effort it takes me to get through even the smallest maneuvers. David’s openness and honesty made him awesome to hike with and definitely helped pass the time.

My brain churned with all sorts of ideas. I wanted to climb a big mountain with David. I know how much the mountains helped me, and it was so apparent how much the mountains meant to David too. I decided that I was going to work and save up enough to “pay it forward” to David. There have been plenty of people to step up and help me reach my goals and make my dreams a reality. Opportunity is what changes peoples lives, and I wanted to give David the opportunity to climb the highest point in South America with me.

I started crunching the numbers and decided it could be a reality, given I kept my head down and worked my tail off.  In August of 2018, after attempting Denali and gearing up for Elbrus, I showed up at MVP. I will never forget the look of sheer surprise on David’s face or the tears that fell after he accepted the invite to head to Argentina to climb the highest point in South America with me. Maybe I am getting soft as I age, but I will always have a hard time not crying watching a grown ass man cry.

This is why I work the way that I do. The relationships and friendships that have been built over the last few years mean more to me than anything. The way strangers have turned into friends, and have all come together for a common goal has been a beautiful experience. Sure, I am addicted to the work that I do and could easily be classified as a workaholic – but the people make all of it worthwhile. The smiles on other people’s faces make my heart so full, and put my life in motion.

Being that David is apart of MVP and that I can fully express, without question, my support of and faith in MVP, our Aconcagua climb will be in an effort to raise funds and awareness for an organization that is truly making a difference in the lives of our Veterans and those who need it the most. The Kirstie Ennis Foundation is proud to support Merging Veterans and Players. Onward and upward – to the Summit!