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NEWS | April 29, 2024

No arm? No problem…Bobsledding is the ticket!

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

Retired Army Spc. David Snypes never met a sport he didn't like or couldn't do. From rock climbing to jumping on a pogo stick, Snypes does it all today, including bobsledding! Oh, and by the way, he is missing his left arm. "I've always played sports, but after my accident, I had to learn how to adapt," said Snypes, who medically retired from the Army in 2016 after being hit by a car on his motorcycle in 2014.

"I just returned to the U.S. from post-deployment leave, took my motorcycle course, and got my license. I didn't have a motorcycle yet, but my Dad was cool enough to let me use his the day I got my license. On my way back home, I got hit by a car."

When he finally came to, he had already had five surgeries." My left arm was swollen; they had to repair bones. I had bleeding on the brain, lung injuries, and a shoulder injury." Snypes began his two-year recovery journey at Walter Reed. "I think it's common, like most Soldiers. I didn't know what a Soldier Recovery Unit was. Once I realized how bad it was, I thought everything was over. I wasn't even aware of how good the benefits would be, how good the SRU would be for my recovery. I had no idea," said the truck-driving logistics specialist.

"I was trying to figure out in the hospital before I could ever speak to anybody; what can I do with one arm?"
Not wanting to live his life any differently, Snypes recovered with a non-working left arm, medically retired, dove into adaptive sports, got married, had kids, competed at multiple Warrior Games on Team Army, and made a big decision about his non-working arm two years ago. "I realized it was getting in the way by the five-year mark. For peace of mind and quality of life, I needed to amputate it, and my family supported me."

He was introduced to the winter sport of skeleton in 2016, which intrigued him. "About three years ago, I visited Lake Placid for my first skeleton camp. They also trained for regular bobsled, so I listened with my other ear to the coaches, and they ended up asking me if I wanted to try it, and I was like, sure!" He had a successful push, and those watching went wild, according to Snypes. "The folks watching were like, wow, we've never seen anybody with one arm do that before!"

One of those watching was wounded warrior, retired Army Major DJ Skelton. "When I first saw David missing an arm at this camp, we looked at him and thought, huh, that's interesting, no arm…we wondered, could he push a bobsled to get it going, let alone jump in safely and drive it? Is there a way to rethink how a one-armed person can drive a bobsled through modification? Is there a way for David to move forward, or is he done here?" asked the Paralympic Bobsledder, who incidentally was involved in policy creation when the notion of Soldier Recovery Units was being created. Skelton was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2004, losing an eye as well as injuries to his arm and leg. He was on board now, helping his fellow wounded warrior, and with the help of Paralympic Coach Kim Severs, David's way forward was explored. "Virginia Tech took on the project. They engineered something for David. He went to a camp a few weeks ago to test out the steering system created for him, and he did great!"

Snypes says he relies on his patience to try new things. "I just use the power I have with one arm. Kim Severs, the coach, works with me on driving the sled." Snypes is doing it with gusto and has a whole new community of supporters to rely on. "I'm all about diversifying adaptive sports on an international level. What David is doing is opening an entire category to introduce this sport in this way," said Skelton.

Snypes journey to being a one-armed Bobsledder had many twists and turns, but Skelton says those don't matter.
"What's cool about David's story is that it took a while to figure out that the details in life don't matter. If you get rid of the details, it's the community; it's the outdoors. The details are different, but the rest is the same. The adrenaline, competition, and community make you forget what you lost. Don't dwell on the details."

Snypes says his journey to today would not have happened without the support of his family and friends. He is happy being retired, working in adaptive sports, and being a full-time Dad and husband. Looking back, he offers this advice to any Soldier who faces change that could need a Soldier Recovery Unit. "Be as involved as you can. All of those people are there to help you in more ways than one when you are dealing with a disability, especially a traumatic one. The SRU fulfills almost every question and challenge I thought I had when I got hurt. They help you with your career and adaptive sports community. Be open, be patient, and utilize every resource."