Less than 10 miles down an icy road from Rawlins, Wyoming, a quick look at the map on her cell phone and a short span of fence forever changed the life of Amberley Snyder on January 10, 2010. But if she could go back to that day, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Those are the moments we have to trust that there is a plan for each and every one for us,” Snyder said.
The plan for Synder was to get back in the saddle … even if she was paralyzed from the waist down.
The badass barrel racer, breakaway roper, and motivational speaker shared her inspirational story with ag communicators from across the United States on Tuesday at the Ag Media Summit in Snowbird, Utah.
Snyder’s story is one of triumph over tragedy and one she certainly didn’t plan for. At 18, “life was perfect” for the recent 4.0 high school graduate and Utah FFA State President with plans to pursue an undergraduate degree in agricultural education that fall. This was all on top of an extensive rodeo career.
Taking riding lessons at the age of 3, Snyder developed an unyielding passion for horses. After her dad’s retirement from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the family moved to Utah, where at the age of 7, Snyder started competing in rodeo. Every summer weekend was spent barrel racing, pole bending, and breakaway roping from that point on with Snyder earning numerous awards. In 2009 she qualified for the National High School Finals in the pole bending and won the National Little Britches Rodeo Association All-Around Cowgirl World Championship.
In fact, that day in January 2010, Snyder was on her way to her job at the Denver Stock Show and Rodeo.
She had just stopped in Rawlins to gas up and when she got back on the road with a slight stomachache, Snyder decided to forego the seat belt. After looking down at the map on her phone, Snyder realized her pickup truck was sliding into the other lane and heading towards a metal beam.
“I though if I can keep my truck from rolling I will be OK,” Snyder said. “There was a moment where I thought I got this.”
But Synder didn’t have it. She overcorrected and her truck went off the road, rolled, and ejected Snyder, slamming her into a fence post.
“At 18, I thought this was it,” Snyder said. “I’m thinking I’m going to die right here, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
That fence post broke Snyder’s back and immediately left her with no feeling in her legs — a feeling Snyder describes as sitting in “warm water from the waist down.”
After five hours of emergency surgery in Casper, Wyoming, the doctor’s prognosis was Snyder would never regain use or feeling below her waist.
Snyder was determined to get back out and ride again. But even with her competitive spirit, the young woman found everything had changed when she first got back on a horse again in August 2010. Frustrated she couldn’t train her horses like she used to, she asked her mom to sell them.
“In that moment I realized, every part of my life was different,” Snyder said. “Nothing was going to be like it was before.”
Snyder had pretty much hung her up saddle until a hunting trip in college completely changed her perspective on things. Her first time out hunting in southern Utah, hoping to fill a new buck tag, and getting frustrated at not getting to shoot until something better came along, Snyder offered up a prayer.
“All right, God, if you hear me, you listen to me and you love me, send me a buck. Amen,” Snyder said.
At that moment, a massive buck walked out of the woods and came closer and closer, until it was 100 feet in front of her, turned broadside, and let Snyder get her shot. That rack now hangs on her mother’s kitchen wall, Snyder said reminding her that “good things can come out of these not so good situations.”
“There is no future in giving up,” Snyder said.
Snyder had definitely not given up. In May of 2015 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education and is currently pursuing her master’s in counseling at Utah State University where she also competes on the University rodeo team. This year she earned her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association card – the association’s highest designation that allows her to compete at any standard professional rodeo event in the country.
After the accident Snyder realized she had a unique opportunity to reach out and inspire people. Every week, Snyder performs everyday tasks that have now become more challenging through her Wheelchair Wednesday video segments on social media. These range from how she gets on her horse to how she fills her truck up with fuel. Nearly 200,000 fans tune in to see Snyder each week on Facebook.
On Tuesday, Snyder proudly showed off her first buckle won since the crash — a feat that took six long years to accomplish. The buckle is also a proud reminder of the first horse Snyder had trained since the wreck in 2010 — Legacy — or as Snyder fondly nicknamed her “Legs.”
The last time Snyder ever used her legs was outside that gas station in Rawlins. And even though she’s strapped to the saddle now and can’t kick her horse, she can still compete with the best in the world.
“I had all those lasts. We are all going to have those lasts in our lives. They are inevitable,” Snyder said. “With the right attitude, we can make our first better than our lasts ever were. Our attitude is a little thing but it makes a big difference.”
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