‘God loves me a lot,’ paralyzed barrel racer inspires Wyoming students to set high goals
September 7, 2016
Determination. Grit. Hope. Horses.
All of these things were the building blocks for a fresh-faced, fair-haired cowgirl's spunky and sweet outlook on life.
At the age of 25, Amberly Snyder is traveling the country, amid a full rodeo career and the pursuit of a Masters Degree in school counseling, sharing her story of the importance of a great attitude and strength.
She visited Niobrara County High School in Lusk, Wyoming on Aug. 29.
“We each draw our daily obstacles out of the bag of life. They may be great, hard, or embarrassing, but we choose how to handle it. At 18, I drew out the biggest obstacle of my life.” Amberley Snyder, barrel racer and motivational speaker
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Snyder grew up no different than many horse-loving kids, riding by the age of 3, rodeoing at 7. She graduated high school at the top of her rodeo game and was accepted to several colleges and offered scholarships to boot. Her story has one big plot twist however.
"The year 2009 was the greatest in my life," Snyder said." I was in FFA State Office, learning that I love teaching. I went to Little Britches Rodeo Finals in Barrels and Breakaway; I won two saddles, 11 buckles, and the All-Around Cowgirl Title. Only one person walks away with that title every year and it was me. I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. I couldn't image life being any better. Then on Jan. 10, 2010, that all changed."
She was making a solo trip to National Western Stock Show in Denver from her home in Elkridge, Utah, to work for two weeks.
"I wear my seat belt all the time, all the time. But I took it off that morning because I had a stomach ache. I took it off for just a minute," Snyder said.
She looked down at her map, she said, and drifted over the median into the other lane; she corrected her vehicle and had it straightened out until the right rear tire caught the gravel shoulder.
"I closed my eyes and could hear the crashing and banging around me. My vehicle rolled and I was launched out. I laid there and assessed the situation. I assessed my head, it was OK. I checked my hands and wiggled my fingers. Then I moved to my feet and I couldn't move my toes. It felt like I was in warm water from the waist down."
Snyder was transported via ambulance to Rawlins, Wyoming, where she was informed she was paralyzed from the waist down. She was flown to Casper shortly thereafter where she had surgery. Then 10 days later she returned home to begin physical therapy.
Once in physical therapy, Snyder was told to set goals.
"Easy," she said. "Walk. Ride. Rodeo."
First, however, she had to start smaller: move from the wheelchair to the bed, get dressed, do a wheeley.
She progressed to walking with braces, Avatar legs, she called them. Check that off the list, the other two goals started to fall into place.
Snyder was invited to Cheyenne Frontier Days a year and a half after her accident; which required her to travel the same road where her accident occurred. Her mother accompanied her on the trip and asked, along the way, what happened where.
"This is Rawlins, where I got fuel. It was the last place I walked. This is the span of fence where my life completely changed," Snyder said she told her mom.
There was a gas station down the road that had a poster emblazoned with the words Snyder needed to hear and has carried with her since: "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
Snyder's positive attitude was apparent throughout her speech. She used several student volunteers and hands-on approaches to demonstrate day-to-day struggles as well as the perseverance required to handle them.
In one demonstration, seven students had to draw an "obstacle" from a bag that represents life. The first pair of students drew a pink leopard-print scarf. They were asked to do their best model walk and pose, then dismissed.
Next, a trio of students drew a wooden chicken and were asked to imitate a chicken. They hesitantly did what was asked. Then a pair drew a chocolate bar to share, and that was all.
"We each draw our daily obstacles out of the bag of life," Snyder said, after the students left. "They may be great, hard, or embarrassing, but we choose how to handle it. At 18, I drew out the biggest obstacle of my life."
Shelly Bruch, LEMS Title I Director, said Snyder's message ties right in with "Seven Habits" that she encourages the students to adopt. "We teach the children that no matter what your life circumstances are, you can accomplish any goal that you set! All of the students comments that I've heard are about how impressed they are with her and how they are now going to set their goals higher for themselves!" The students were unusually quiet and attentive to Snyder's presentation, she said.
In 2015, Snyder competed in the world's richest one-day rodeo, The American, as a fan exemption and has qualified to compete in the semi-finals this year aboard her horse Legacy.
Snyder showed a video she created in which she demonstrated the bystander effect. She shot video of herself in various locations around campus flipped over in her wheelchair and unable to get back up. She also had a segment in which she was sitting in the backseat of her pickup trying to pull her wheelchair out of the pickup box. It often took up to 20 to 30 seconds for her to be helped, even with people passing frequently.
"Sometimes you're going to be that person who needs help," Snyder said. "More importantly, be willing to be a hero when someone needs you. Offer your help." Many did not help solely because others around them weren't helping; this is the bystander effect.
"The video Amberley did of testing people if they would help her after she 'wrecked' her chair was very moving for me. I couldn't believe the amount of people who saw she was in need and then pretended they didn't see it so that they wouldn't have to help her," said Lexie Ashurst, mother to two boys in sixth grade and kindergarten at Lusk Elementary and Middle Schools. "It made me realize that I have a true desire in my heart to model for my kids that they, including myself, be the person who not only helps but comes running when they see a need. There are so many ways that a person can offer help but yet so many choose to pretend they don't see it."
Allison Williams, freshman at NCHS, said, "I loved her! She has a really positive attitude about everything and I think she was very inspiring."
Snyder shared a story in which she asked her mom to sell her horses, after being discouraged when she couldn't train them like she wanted. Her mother didn't, of course, and Snyder eventually got back to riding with aid from a seatbelt out of an old junk car.
"Ever heard of the saying, 'when life gives you lemons?' Well these are my lemonade moments," Snyder said of the happy moments like shooting a big buck or being in Lusk with a gym full of students. "I'm reminded God loves me a lot and those moments get me through the hard ones."
Snyder walks, rides, rodeos, and inspires. Follow her on Facebook by searching Amberley Snyder. She also has several speaking engagements scheduled: Sept. 1, Tulsa Reining Classic Tulsa, Oklahoma; Sept. 7, Georgia Rehab Savannah, Georgia; Sept. 9, Purina Conference Vancouver, Canada; Sept. 14; Purina Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.