Free Spirit Carli Snyder's Unique, Refreshing Worldview Endears Her to Fans and Teammates

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Carli Snyder loves impulsive decisions. Anytime life starts feeling consistent, she instinctively shakes things up.

“I can’t stand when I know how my day is going to start and end every day, or that there’s not going to be anything new,” Snyder said. “Just the tiniest mix up in my day, meeting someone who changes your outlook on a certain subject, or reading a new book, just getting a new idea in your head can fulfill that need of constant motion.”

Those subtle changes usually do the trick. Except this past May, when Snyder, bored and perusing Craigslist, gazed wondrously at the empty backyard of the house she rented in downtown Gainesville and thought, I could totally have a dog here.

A couple clicks later she stumbled onto the perfect listing.

Snyder acted immediately. There was no time for second thoughts. This was far from logical, and not at all practical. She knew it. Which was exactly why she replied to the ad, hopped in her Volkswagen Beetle and drove over an hour through rural Florida to pick up Ophie, a three-year-old Great Dane.

None of her family, friends, or teammates found out until Snyder sent them all Snapchats of Ophie in the backseat.

Photos courtesy of Carli Snyder

“Lots of college co-eds want a dog. But who goes and buys a Great Dane?” Florida volleyball head coach Mary Wise said. “That would be Carli.”

Almost anyone who spends time with Snyder usually comes away with a similarly hilarious story. Those closest to her laugh about how there are too many to recall.

“Carli is just so different from anyone I’ve ever met,” redshirt sophomore Allie Monserez said. “Every day she surprises me in a different way … she just has such a positive and unique outlook on life. She’ll always tell me about her different theories and different things she stayed up all night thinking about.

“The other day she told me about what she thought it meant to be human, and just went on for a 20-minute car ride with her different ideas about it. Sometimes I just sit there in silence and go, what is she even saying to me?

Such conversations with Snyder are wildly entertaining, and her free-spirited personality, incisive worldview, and acute sense of self make them incredibly refreshing.

Snyder has always been unapologetically different.

Well before thrift shopping became trendy, Snyder and her grandmother bonded over it. Thrifting was where her affinity for ugly, baggy men’s sweaters or just about anything else crazy and out of style came from. Her fondness for wearing mismatched socks drove her mother, Sheila, crazy on laundry days.

An avid reader, Snyder cannot stand to finish a good book. Her solution: put it off by reading four at a time.

She reads anything she can get her hands on, and she admits to spending an “uncomfortable amount” of money at the local bookstore, where the staff know her by name. She reads with such frequency she has to be told to put down books in order to keep up with her studies.

Photo courtesy of Carli Snyder

“I read the top books right away,” Snyder said. “I’m resorting to the classics until the new books of 2017 come out—George Orwell’s ‘1984’, I’m re-reading ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘The Sun Also Rises’, by Earnest Hemingway. I don’t necessarily need one genre. I just love a good book.

“Mysteries were giving me nightmares though. I was really on murder mysteries and could not sleep. I’d wake up in panic and had four dreams where CK (teammate and roommate Caroline Knop) died, and she went, ‘Can you stop reading these books?’”

Snyder has a fascination for art. The Detroit Institute of Art, just outside her hometown of Macomb, Mich., is one of her favorite places to go. She does not have a favorite piece, feeling she becomes obsessed with things too easily to fixate on one. Example: the day she discovered Frida Kahlo, a self-taught self-portrait artist from the early 1900s.

Photos courtesy of Carli Snyder

“I became obsessed with Frida because I saw a quote by her, and then I watched a documentary on her, bought a book on her, and loved her,” Snyder said. “This was in a span of four hours. CK came home and was like, ‘What happened?’”

Then there is Snyder’s hair.

She has given up conforming to societal norms and expectations for hair styling, allowing her golden locks to fall wherever they please in all their frizzy glory. No matter the occasion, whether it be a volleyball match or a formal event, her hair remains relatively untouched.

“I spent so much of my life straightening it or trying to make it look different, and I didn’t realize how well it represented me as a person: everywhere, very care-free, and having a mind of its own,” Snyder said. “I like for it to go everywhere. I don’t think I’ll ever cut or change it.”

Photo by Jim Burgess (UAA Communications)

While Snyder worries very little about her outward appearance, she takes great care of her psyche.

A heralded recruit coming out of Dakota High School, Snyder played well in her freshman season with the Gators but struggled with the pressures of Division I volleyball. She loved the sport, but it no longer brought her the sense of confidence, peace, or fulfillment it once did.

So, as only Carli Snyder could, she mixed things up.

“It turns out I needed so much more than volleyball to be happy,” Synder said. “That’s one part of your world in college. I was so focused on that one part that I felt empty in other areas. I just needed to find something else to have that was mine. I started going out on nature walks and exploring the area more, coming to coffee shops alone.

“There were so many different types of people I got to talk to that didn’t ask one question about volleyball, didn’t ask one question about school. It was just talking to people and hearing their experiences. I’m a big believer everyone has something for you to hear … something that can help you.”

Taking up mediation and yoga also alleviated the stress of balancing college coursework and volleyball. Those exercises allowed her to, as she once wrote on her personal blog, completely be one with the universe.

“I just feel really connected with the Earth around me, connected to the ground my feet are on, and being where the ground is,” Snyder said. “Wherever my feet are, I’m trying to be there. I’m not trying to have my mind drift to what I’m doing later in the day or what I’m worried about. I just want to be right where my feet are, feeling really connected to my surroundings at that moment.”

Photos courtesy of Carli Snyder

Discovering a calling beyond volleyball over the past year has also given Snyder an even greater sense of clarity and purpose.

International studies with a focus on Africa, her fourth major in three years, is where her heart truly lies. She cannot read enough about Africa. And the idea of making a difference there, being part of something bigger than herself, is all about answering the central question of what she hopes to achieve in her life.

“Can I bring peace to others and those around me?” Snyder asked rhetorically.

Snyder brings a certain peace to the Gators. Teammates gravitate toward her rejuvenated passion for volleyball and ceaseless adoration for life.

More often than not, Snyder’s daily activities force her teammates out of their comfort zones. They are nearly always thankful for those experiences. Monserez went as far as to say her everyday adventures with Snyder have “helped (her) grow as a person.”

Snyder’s game on the volleyball court has evolved as well. The Gators ask a lot of Snyder, an outside hitter who led the team in attempts 20 times in 29 matches this year. According to Coach Wise, Snyder, who earned the first All-SEC honor of her career this season, could not have carried such a significant burden and still performed at this level a year ago. Everything from her strength and conditioning to her focus is continually reaching new heights.

While Carli’s play, along with her kind-hearted soul, draws praise from fans and parents, one of those things means much more than the other to Snyder’s mother.

“I think she’s a better person than she is a volleyball player, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Sheila said. “I learned a long time ago that everybody is unique in their own way, and I wanted her to embrace that. Not a lot of people have enough confidence, without being cocky, to do the things she does.”

Snyder will have to fall into somewhat of a routine the next couple of weeks, as the Gators chase their first Final Four appearance since 2003.

Once volleyball season comes to a close, though, what exactly Carli Snyder will be up to until the start of her senior campaign is anyone’s guess.

Because as her mom says, “One never knows in our family what the next day will be in the life of Carli.”

Photo by Adler Garfield (UAA Communications)

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