It was during bootcamp that Annika first noticed the pain in her right foot.
“I had lived all my life so far for me, and I thought it was time I thought of living for other people,” said Annika when asked why she first joined the Marines.
But this unexpected pain, severe and unrelenting, continued. Annika sought medical help, and for over nine months, she had no answers until an MRI revealed a very difficult diagnosis — an intramuscular arteriovenous vascular tumor. That day, this Marine’s life forever changed.
Annika spent the next 14 months going to and from doctor’s appointments, seeing specialist after specialist with the hope of saving her foot.
“The biopsy results came back inconclusive for cancerous cells, but the tumor was growing rapidly causing a lot of pain and nerve damage,” she said.
Throughout multiple surgeries, she became dangerously prone to infections and developed a staph infection, cellulitis, and osteomyelitis. Finally, Annika faced an incredibly difficult choice to continue attempting to remove the tumor or electively amputate her right leg below the knee.
And after Annika made the decision to amputate, she reached out to Semper Fi & America’s Fund, and The Fund immediately offered support. To help Annika regain her independence, The Fund offset the cost of a left accelerator pedal, allowing her to drive once again.
“Semper Fi & America’s Fund has helped me in so many ways. They have helped me with resources when I first lost my leg. They helped me through my transition out of the military,” she said. “During the pandemic, they offered financial assistance. Team Semper Fi has allowed me to have snowboarding coaching, which was a huge mental outlet for me. They also have a great team of people to just check in and see how I’m doing. All in all, they not only provide tangible and financial assistance, but also social and mental. I am very grateful for my whole case management team.”
A talented athlete, Annika is a cherished member of Team Semper Fi, having participated in the Warrior Games, the 2019 Marine Corps Trials, the 2020 Marine Corps Trials, and a golf event, and she hopes to compete in the 2026 Paralympics as a snowboarder.
Throughout her journey to healing, Annika has continually looked for ways to encourage and uplift those around her and around the world. As an athlete, model, and on her growing social media channels (@annikatheamputee), she’s helped bring about a greater sense of awareness for the disability community, and she also serves as a coach for NubAbility Athletics, which pairs limb different and amputee children to coaches that have similar disabilities.
“My plans for the future are to continue to make an impact on the disabled community … if I can impact a handful of people, that is enough for me,” she said. “My biggest motivator is knowing the people who are watching. I have created a social media presence and constantly get comments about how my videos helped someone else through their recovery or helped them answer questions they don’t know … Being a role model for the younger generation makes me want to be better in every way I can.”
This month (August 19-28), Annika is once again participating in the Warrior Games, proudly competing with her endless positivity, incredible determination, and spirit of hope always on display.