By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN After a car accident left her legs completely paralyzed, Amberley Snyder had a choice.
She could either feel sorry for herself and focus on what she’d lost or she could find a way to make life better.
“Every single person is going to have obstacles in their lives; never compare yours to someone else’s,” she said during a Sept. 18 presentation sponsored by The Howard Lake Country Store, Purina, and Munson Lakes Nutrition at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium.
For Snyder, the obstacle that would change her life forever happened in January 2010, on a freeway in Wyoming.
She was on her way to Denver, where she had been offered a job with a western stock show and rodeo competition.
“I couldn’t imagine life any better,” Snyder recalled. In 2009, she had won a world championship for barrel racing, was named state president of Utah’s FFA, and had graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average.
The morning of Jan. 10, she stopped for gas in Rawlins, WY. Although Snyder was normally a seatbelt-wearer, she left it off because of a stomach ache.
Less than 10 miles down the road, she glanced down to check her map. Her truck drifted. She tried to steer back, but the tire caught dirt and she spun sideways at 75 miles per hour.
‘I’m going to die right here’
As the Ford pickup started rolling, Snyder thought “I’m going to die right here and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.”
Lying in a snowbank, Snyder remembers trying to move her toes. Nothing happened. Instead, she felt like her lower body was in warm water.
At the hospital, medical staff started talking about paralysis.
“I asked the doctors straight out, ‘What are the chances I will be able to feel my legs again?’ The doctor answered, ‘slim to none, but more to the none,’ and just simply walked out and left me to work through my thoughts,” Snyder noted.
In the months following the accident, “everything was hard.” Getting dressed, moving from the wheelchair to the bed, and other everyday tasks seemed insurmountable.
Snyder persisted, though, and gradually accomplished these small goals working toward her bigger goals of “walk, ride, rodeo.”
“I was told numerous times, ‘you need to find something else. A new hobby,’” Snyder recalled.
Those people didn’t understand Snyder’s passion or her determination.
The hardest day
Four months after the accident, Snyder got back in the saddle, but it wasn’t the same. Staying upright was difficult, and barrel racing seemed out of the question.
“That day was harder for me than the day they said I’d never walk again,” Snyder said. “I realized everything is different.”
Discouraged, and feeling that she would never be able to train her horses again, she told her mom to sell them. Fortunately, her mom didn’t listen.
That fall, Snyder went on a deer hunting trip for people with disabilities an experience that gave her renewed hope for the future. The first few days were uneventful, and she was growing impatient. Near the end, she prayed, “All right, God, if you hear me, if you listen to me and love me, send me a buck. Amen.”
The next day, out walked a huge buck, 250 yards away. Snyder thought it seemed too far to shoot, but then, the buck came in another 30 yards. Still thinking it was too far, Snyder waited. The buck came in another 20 yards, and turned broadside. Snyder thought, “just a little closer.” The buck walked over until it was 100 yards away, turned broadside, and stood perfectly still.
Today, that buck is mounted on Snyder’s wall, and she said it’s a reminder that “God loves me.”
With a hopeful attitude, Snyder began training her horses with voice and hand commands, using a special seat, Velcro straps, and a seatbelt to help her stay in place.
“Maybe not ideal, maybe not the way I’d planned, but still possible,” Snyder said.
She told the audience that ability is only one part of the equation for success motivation and attitude make up the rest.
“My ability is definitely not the way it was six years ago,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like my attitude is the only thing I have control over.”
Better than ever
Snyder began barrel racing again in June 2011, and her times are now faster than before her accident.
In addition to riding, Snyder is passionate about helping others. She is finishing her master’s degree in school guidance counseling at Utah State University, and gives motivational speeches across the US.
She also creates “Wheelchair Wednesday” videos, which offer tips for how to do various tasks in a wheelchair.
Four years ago, during a motivational presentation at an elementary school, Snyder was asked, “If you could go back to that day [the day of the crash] and change it, would you?”
At first, Snyder thought, of course why would she want to be stuck in a wheelchair? But before responding, she reflected on the opportunities that have come about as a result of her circumstances, and the people she’s met along the way.
“I replied to that group of kids, ‘no,’” Snyder said. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”