Franklin Regional stabbing victim reunites with rugby teammates
Less than a week after an 8-inch knife plunged into the side of his chest, puncturing his lung and forever changing his once-unguarded perception of walking down a crowded hallway at school, Nick Snyder reunited with his Kiski Valley rugby teammates at practice.
It won't be long until the fast-recovering junior from Franklin Regional gives the sport another try.
When he arrived at the in-progress workout Tuesday, players stopped and surrounded him, assistant coach Keith Erwin handing him a bag filled with gifts from other rugby teams.
The moment was greeted with a smile from Snyder, 17, a starting first-year player who has taken his life-threatening ordeal in stride, emerging from the scrum with renewed outlook.
Addressing his teammates, Snyder said,“I'd join you guys, but my chest hurts.”
He observed the remainder of practice but has been cleared medically to return to action in early May.
Participating in sports, though — he also is a state-qualifying swimmer at Franklin Regional — has turned into a privilege, just as waking up and hugging his parents, or eating a pretzel have become. The kid with the Twitter handle @thepretzelguy never will take playing games for granted.
“The fact that I am even here makes it seem even more like a miracle,” said Snyder, the lone Franklin Regional player on the U-19 Kiski Valley club team. “You never learn how strong you are until you're put in that type of spot.”
He went back to school Tuesday for the district's optional return day, a type of readjustment event before classes officially begin Wednesday, a full week after the knife attack. Alex Hribal, 16, of Murrysville is accused of injuring 20 students and a security guard during the attack. Police charged Hribal with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault.
Snyder's presence at practice seemed to brighten a snowy, frigid, early evening practice in Vandergrift.
“That's a warrior right there,” sophomore player Tyler Worthing said of Snyder. “You have to respect him. You never wish something like that on anyone.”
Snyder said he stayed conscious during the ordeal, from the stabbing to his arrival at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. He said a routine morning turned into chaos when a fire alarm sounded, sending waves of students through a tightening hallway.
“When I heard the fire alarm, I was coming out of the bathroom. I came down to the first floor and started moving with the mob,” Snyder said. “I ran right into him, and the knife went into the right side of my chest. I didn't see that he had a knife. I didn't realize I had been stabbed until I saw all the blood.”
The knife, Snyder said, went a half-inch into his chest just below his right breast. A small wound remains, stapled closed.
“You see people get stabbed in the movies all the time, and you wonder, “Wonder what that feels like?' ” he said. “Now I know.”
Snyder said his lung collapsed on the way to the hospital but quickly re-inflated and was getting full oxygen, a credit to being in swim shape.
“It's incredible to think he'll be back so soon,” Erwin said. “I guess that's what you get with such a well-conditioned athlete.”
Kiski Valley defeated South Hills on Friday, 39-17, rallying around Snyder and dedicating the win to him.
“We all got together (last) Thursday and talked about how lucky Nick is,” senior Andrew Carson said. “It's the scariest thing ever. We're so thankful that it wasn't as bad as it could have been.”
“Practice that next day was different, just quiet and serious,” Kiski Valley coach Seth Erwin said.
Snyder has been overwhelmed with calls, cards and well-wishes from family, friends and strangers. When he finally looked at his cell phone after getting discharged Friday, he had 551 text messages.
His goodie bag contained signed rugby balls from several teams, including Penn State, IUP, and Burrell.
“It shows how close and supportive rugby people are,” Snyder said. “There you have Burrell, our biggest rival, and they send me a ball. It means a lot.”
Snyder also reeled in another surprise Saturday when he went trout fishing with his father, Rob, a former rugby player with the Pittsburgh Harlequins.
Nick became interested in the game when his father took him to a college match last year.
“He loves to compete,” Rob Snyder said. “It's tough to keep him down.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.