Eric Snyder: An Amputee’s Story of Flight

“Nothing can stop you. Your limits are whatever you put your mind to… ”

Breathe.

One deep, inhaling breath spreads across the lungs, as his eyes soak in the rising sun. The horizon beckons him forward. 

Exhale. 

Run. 

Pulling the throttle, a slight hum hum from the engine’s belly propels him on, sprinting, he chases the sky. One leg leads, the other mimics its stride, an imitation, but no less strong. Determined to feel flight, he runs and runs until he leaves the earth behind. 

 

 Eric’s story is no different than anyone else’s – he was determined to fly. And a fairly recent loss of his left leg wasn’t going to hold him back either. Perhaps by happenstance, or maybe there were greater works at hand, but as time would have it Eric found himself in flight school at Aviator on a very special date – the day he was supposed to begin his rigorous trek on the Appalachian Trail, March 14, 2020.

“I used to be really into backpacking,” he explained. “I’d be out for a week or two at a time going to different peaks of mountains up in the Adirondacks and stuff like that.

“I was planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail a couple of months before I lost my leg and my actual planned departure date was March 14, which was also the starting date of this class, so I felt like ‘I’ve got to do it – it’s meant to be.’ I signed up for the class 200 days before it started,” he said, a smile tugging at his face before adding, “So, before I came I was pretty much bothering my friends every day with a countdown; you know, ‘just another 100 days… ’”

Standing seven-feet tall, Eric was deemed a slender, gentle giant by his classmates, and “para-pirate” when he took his first flight. Greeting everyone with a smile, the warmth of his nature and light-hearted presence puts those around him instantly at ease.

One Foot in the Grave emblazoned across the back of his right calf is simply an outward testament of his jovial personality, but a constant stream of laughter and grins prove more than a sense of humor about Eric, as he takes everything in stride and his true heart comes out. He is tenacious, determined, and kind.

“This is definitely out of my normal bubble, per say. Like, five years ago I would never have been able to see myself flying around with a fan on my back and with a piece of fabric over my head,” he exclaimed. “I generally stay close to the ground – I was completely out of my element. 

“I definitely have a different perspective now – I’ve seen things I could never have seen before, in places I wouldn’t be able to get that kind of view,” Eric elaborated. “I thought flying was going to be way harder, but it wasn’t. It just came natural, it didn’t feel weird on my leg, or hurt, it was just fun.” 

 Having a heart for wandering, and newly altered mobility, the once avid hiker, snowboarder, and all-around outdoorsman sought a way to continue his life of endeavors, so taking the plunge to fly paramotors seemed like a good place to start. “I kind of thought of it as another way to explore nature like I like to, get some good views, without having to walk really far,” Eric beamed. “This was another way I could keep pursuing adventure.”

But flying isn’t even the end goal, as he recently made some big decisions regarding the rest of his life. From quitting his job, learning to fly paramotors, and starting his own business of creating custom cabinets and furniture, Eric chuckled before admitting, “I’ve kind of been winging it lately.

“I quit my job, came to do this. I saw it as a turning point in my life as I started my own little business thing. I was pretty miserable with the job that I had, even though it paid well, and I was just like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s time to figure out something else.’ I don’t really know where I’m going – but I’m going.”

 While the future is an uncertainty, the gentle giant admitted that since learning to fly it’s given him confidence in other aspects of his life. Seeing the possibilities of the future, coupled with that new found confidence, hope and ambition have been sparked.

With great enthusiasm Eric’s desire is to encourage others to pursue the same, no matter who they are.

For those in a similar situation to himself, he explained, “I’m pretty good on my prosthetic, it’s not too different [flying]. Instead of only putting my pants on in the morning, I put on my pants, then put on my leg. It doesn’t really hinder me most of the time. Sometimes I have to take it off during the day, it hurts me, but most of the time I don’t even think about it.”

“So if you’re thinking about it  – go for it! Definitely go for it,” Eric breathed excitedly, smiling yet again. “Nothing can stop you. Your limits are whatever you put your mind to.”