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Another hurdle cleared for Centaurs girls soccer coach Dennis Snelling

Just a little over three years ago, Woodstock Academy girls soccer coach Dennis Snelling had a life-changing event.

A motor vehicle accident in Putnam, likely caused by a seizure, resulted in his suffering a severe back injury.

The accident resulted in spinal cord damage, Snelling’s L3 disc had burst upon impact and created “a mess” in the spinal cord region.

Surgery was performed to fuse his L2-L5 discs in his back.

Doctors at Hartford Hospital prepped him to begin to adjust to life in a wheelchair as he did not immediately regain the use of his legs.

On Sunday, Snelling ran in the O’Putnam 5K road race and finished the 3.1 mile course in 28 minutes, 24 seconds.

“It was probably one of the coolest things I have done in a while,” Snelling said. “I don’t really enjoy running, in general, ever but to do so with pretty much the whole community is pretty cool. It was a personal accomplishment. That was my mindset.”

Snelling never asked the question of his doctors when he was in physical therapy at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, following his surgery, if his being unable to walk was permanent.

He knew it would, in part, depend on the effort that he put into it and it was also dependent on how severe the damage to the nerves was.

After eight weeks of therapy for three-to-four hours per day, his quadricep muscles were still not responding.

But just before he was sent to a rehab facility, there was movement in his quad and new hope.

He regained the full use of his legs and not only was he walking by the fall of 2020, but he was also back on the sidelines, coaching the girls soccer program at Woodstock Academy.

He has also, gradually, started to do things he did prior to the accident.

He used to run about three times a week, averaging about 23 minutes for a 5K distance. He was also playing indoor and outdoor soccer, generally, to stay fit.

The soccer may have to stay dormant for now and running is something he does occasionally.

Things still aren’t perfect.

“I just had an MRI Friday (March 10) and if you read the results, you probably would think that this is not a person who would be running. There is constant pressure, not so much pain, in my back, but everyone has something wrong with their body. I do a lot of biking, it helps a lot,” Snelling said.

The biking is not only good for his back but for his prosthetic left knee.

“I can’t really run too much,” Snelling said. “It’s a balance thing. Running is probably not the best thing to do but I will do on occasion. I would do the Putnam race again. You see a lot of people you know. It’s a lot of fun and I’m not out there to race.”

He had run three miles only a couple of times before but had little choice about running on Sunday.

His wife, Sara, signed him up for the O’Putnam 5K.

“I’m glad she did. I couldn’t opt out,” Snelling said.

Plus, he was sure he could beat her.

Sara crossed the finish line a few seconds ahead of him.

“I was trying at the end, but I couldn’t catch her,” Snelling said with a laugh.