A New Starting Line: John Snyder’s Story
After sustaining a brain injury in a hit-and-run, John Snyder re-learns to run.
John Snyder is an athlete at his core. In high school, he played a variety of sports and was a walk-on swimmer at Auburn University. After his college career, John found himself looking for different ways to remain active, and eventually, he chose running. He began running races, building up to completing his first Ironman triathlon in the fall of 2020. After that, he was hooked and continued training, this time for a Half Ironman.
On the morning of July 31, 2021, John woke up ready to train. He put on his bike shoes and made his way out on the road. While on his ride, John’s life changed forever. He was injured by a hit-and-run driver, sustaining a shattered C-1 vertebra, a broken C-2 vertebra, and a traumatic brain injury.
“I don’t remember the exact details, but I planned for a two to three-hour bike ride, and it turned into this life-changing event,” John explains.
John was admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he spent two weeks. While at Grady, he had surgery to fuse his C-2 vertebra to the base of his skull. From there, John transferred to Shepherd Center, where he began therapy with his team. Due to his brain injury, John says he does not remember the first six or seven weeks after his injury.
“One of my first vivid memories was hearing the therapists pushing my wheelchair say that we were turning to the left. So, I would start singing, ‘To the left, to the left,’” John laughs.
With his sense of humor and his athletic drive intact, John began to train with this care team, this time from a new starting line. After seven weeks in Shepherd Center as an inpatient in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, he continued his rehabilitation with five weeks at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury. Slowly, he began to swim, walk, and run again.
“John’s perseverance and determination are remarkable,” says Lydia Schubert, John’s recreational therapist at Shepherd Center. “He got in the pool his last week on inpatient at Shepherd Center and just a few months later he was back to swimming with his master's team. He hasn’t let anything stop him; he is truly inspiring.”
In July of 2022, almost a year after his injury, John ran The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, which led him right past Shepherd Center on Peachtree Road, getting back into the swing of racing. He continues to improve, working with his physical therapists to pursue more races in the future.
“I’ve run a couple of 5Ks and 10Ks since then. I even swam in a swim meet, which was fun to get up and race in the water again,” he says. “Right now, I’m shifting my activity levels a bit because of some tightness in my neck, but I’m hoping in the future to do some more sprint-style triathlons.”
While he says he only vividly remembers the last few weeks at Shepherd Center, he does remember his therapists, Shepherd staff, and all the extraordinary work they put in together.
“I give a lot of credit to the therapists, doctors, and to everybody at Shepherd Center. They pushed me in the right direction, and I think the world of them.”
Written by Lindsey Rieben
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Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.