Single arm amputee takes on bobsled

David Snypes Jr., right, high fives Chad Ohmer after they completed their second run at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — Last June, David Snypes Jr. was attending a para skeleton camp at the indoor push house facility at Mount Van Hoevenberg when someone told him that he should try pushing the bobsled off to the side.

“I said, ‘Why not?'” Snypes said. “I took one push, and it felt good.”

U.S. para sliding sports manager Kim Seevers admits she didn’t approve the run.

“I heard the bobsled coming, and I turned around and I see him in it,” Seevers said.

When Seevers looked up, the other crew members hid their faces.

DJ Skelton gets ready to push David Snypes Jr during a bobsled run at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

Snypes, a veteran of the U.S. Army from Newburgh, lost the use of his left arm due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2016, and just last year his arm was amputated.

Bobsled has always required the use of two hands to steer, so without an arm, Snypes was unable to switch sports. It’s been such a problem that Seevers has had to turn away anybody without an arm who wants to try bobsled.

“If you have to say no to people with a disability because you can’t accommodate that, it breaks your heart,” Seevers said.

But on Tuesday, less than a year after pushing the bobsled, Snypes slid down the Mount Van Hoevenberg bobsled track in a sled built for one-arm amputees.

Seevers believes he may be the first single-arm amputee to have completed a run down any bobsled in a track in a sled built specifically for people with one arm.

David Snypes Jr. completes his second run at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

“What we just did this week opens up a whole new world to a demographic with a disability that we wouldn’t have been able to reach before,” Seevers said.

A typical bobsled has two D-shaped handles — or rings — that are used to steer. Drivers can pull on the D ring with their left hand to steer the sled to the left and with the right hand to steer to the right. If the rings are held parallel, the bobsled will stay straight.

“For me, I have one D ring here, and when I’m not doing anything it’s kind of in a neutral state where the runners stay straight,” Snypes said. “When I pull it, it allows the runner to turn right, and when I push it, allows the runners to turn left. Everything else is feel. I’m trying to adapt to that turn. Keep it at a certain spot and try again if you don’t get it right the first time.”

The design was made by Virginia Tech students through the Quality of Life Plus program, which challenges university STEM students to create innovative technology solutions to improve the quality of life for injured veterans and first responders.

“It’s all seniors — or (grad students) — that you can make a challenge either on behalf of a veteran or a veteran can issue a challenge,” Seevers said. “Then they send them out to all these engineering programs across the country, and they pick what project they want to work on and we’re fortunate enough to have Virginia Tech this year. They are one of the best engineering schools in the country. He left, and we had to figure out how to enable him to be able to drive a bobsled. That’s been their project all year, and they were up here last week.”

While Snypes wasn’t here last week, U.S. Parabobsled push division national team member DJ Skelton and 2022 Olympian Hunter Church tested out the sled.

“I got to a point where I was comfortable with it,” Skelton said. “Hunter Church was a pilot for our four-man bobsled team at the Olympics. Without telling him a whole lot, having a brand new pilot who comes to the table with no new information, we had him get in the sled and he had an amazing run.”

Skelton said the sled is “truly revolutionary in the sport of bobsled.”

“But also the technical aspect of how we drive,” he added. “It’s a great relationship brewing with David now because he’s in there. Any information he gives us we can go back and make small tweaks to give him a better driving experience. It’s super exciting, all under a blanket of safety. I think David can contest that the sled does what it wants to do and is safe.”

Skelton said a lot went into the process to make sure the driver gets a similar experience to a typical bobsled, including the feeling of pressure.

“What makes great bobsled pilots is their ability to feel pressure rise and build in the sled and then determine when they drive or when hold pressure and release pressure,” he said.

During the process of making the sled, Snypes had a couple of Zoom calls with the Virginia Tech students.

“They let me know what they were doing and how the design was going,” Snypes said. “I’m not an engineer, so a lot of it was ‘OK, that sounds like it will work.'”

The sled isn’t specifically built just for Snypes. The steering system is essentially a temporary attachment that can be taken off and moved for someone without the opposite arm as Snypes.

Skelton added that the new bobsled has only been tested to go off start number four at Mount Van Hoevenberg, so the sled itself goes slower down the track than one that starts higher up.

Snypes was one of four new people testing out parabobsledding for the first time. All four completed four runs in total, with Snypes driving the lone sled built for single-arm amputees.

Even after their first run on Tuesday, all four new sliders wanted to figure out how to make the sled go faster.


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