COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis of San Diego, Calif., was believed to be dead on impact when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan last summer. It was a gruesome scene.
But while undergoing a blood transfusion, Ennis miraculously woke up.
Eleven months later, Ennis is a three-time Warrior Games presented by Deloitte gold medalist in swimming, after training for only two weeks. The Marines won 34 swimming medals overall, including 13 golds, to close the six-day competition.
“I literally jumped into the pool two weeks ago,” Ennis said. “It’s crazy to think how far I've come in one year. After being shot down, I was a mess. My face was reconstructed and I had to re-learn to talk and walk, among other things.”
With barely any training, Ennis showed no signs of stopping, as she won the women’s 50 meter freestyle, 100m free and 50m backstroke on Thursday at the United States Air Force Academy.
“It’s so great to see such a turnout for an event like this, because it brings to light how important it is for wounded Veterans to be supported,” Ennis said. “When I got home from Afghanistan, I had a really tough time and did not receive the support I was expecting, but I think by publicizing competitions like this and showing the public what we've been through, they will begin to understand and support us.”
Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Corey Carter (Columbus, Ohio) had an impressive day as well, winning gold in the 50m back, silver in the 50m free, and bronzes in both the 100m free and the mixed 200m freestyle relay.
Despite his success, Carter admits that he gets nervous before races.
“ I've been swimming my whole life, but competition swimming is entirely different,” Carter said. “I walk up to the blocks and my stomach twists into knots. I am still working to find a way to relax before races. Luckily, I've learned to work well under pressure.”
His teammate retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeanne Goldy-Sanitate (Rehobeth Beach, Del.) finished her final Warrior Games with a bang, as she competed in four events and medaled in three of them.
"I’m in shock that this is my last Warrior Games, but I need to move on," she said.
Goldy-Sanitate suffers from severe Multiple Sclerosis, in addition to her spinal injury she suffered while deployed. Despite the tough challenges she faces on a day-to-day basis, she cites exercise as her miracle cure.
“At this stage in my life and with my MS, the doctors predicted me to be doing a lot worse," Goldy-Sanitate said. "In fact, my exercise has only helped me! Swimming has always been my passion, but I love to cycle as well."
Goldy-Sanitate is known for extreme cycling, and once hand-cycled 82 miles along Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach. Unfortunately, she crashed in this week’s cycling event and was unable to finish the race.
But her extreme pride for both America and the Air Force supersedes any rivalry, as she recently got the Warrior Games logo tattooed on her back, to remind her of the good times she’s had the past three years.
“For me, it doesn't matter if you are in the Army or Navy or whatever," she said. "I have friends everywhere. We are all part of one team- fighting for the same thing. I think it’s important to remember that sometimes."
Army finished the swimming competition with 23 medals (13 gold, eight silver and two bronze). Air Force athletes won 14 medals while the British Armed Forces claimed nine and Navy earned four.
The Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, a competition for 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, concludes Thursday with the Closing Ceremony, which includes the presentation of the Chairman's Cup team title and the Ultimate Champion individual award.
For more on the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/warriorgames/.