U.S. Paralympian and wounded warrior Navy Lt. Brad Snyder can swim 100 meters in less than a minute.
That’s almost Michael Phelps-fast.
Even if the 28-year-old explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer still had his sight, a sub-sixty-second 100-meter time would be worthy of national praise. Without it, Snyder clocks in as one of the fastest visually impaired swimmers on the planet.
Over the weekend, he clinched his spot on the U.S. Paralympic swim team bound for London with a blockbuster race in another of his favorite events , the 400-meter freestyle. Snyder took 54 seconds off his previous best time, finishing in 4:35:62.
It Happened So Recently
Just this past September, the former captain of his Naval Academy swim team was leading a patrol in Afghanistan on a life-saving mission to find and disarm improvised explosive devices (IED’s) placed by Taliban militants.
As Snyder’s team moved through farm land, a mine went off injuring two allied Afghan fighters at the front of their column. When Snyder rushed to their aid, he stepped on a second pressure plate, setting off another explosion. The initial shock wave knocked his goggles off, leaving his eyes exposed to the blinding flash of the blast.
He knew he was hurt pretty bad, but he still had some vision as he walked to the extraction helicopter. When he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a few days later, however, he was told he would lose his sight forever.
A Brother’s Love
Snyder had no plans of playing the victim. Just weeks after he was released from the hospital he began running with his younger brother—connected by a short piece of rope and a lifetime of mutual respect.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” said 24-year-old Mitchell Snyder. “He’s my older brother and he’s always been such an inspiration to me growing up. He’s such a tireless worker. There was no way I was going to let him sit around. That’s not who he is.”
The Snyder brothers ran together for weeks before Brad decided he wanted to get back in the pool “where he belonged.”
“The water is my home,” he said. “It’s my safe-haven. It’s a place where without my sight I still feel like I can be free to push myself physically, and it’s the only place where I don’t feel anxiety, like I’m about to run into something or hurt myself.”
At the 2012 Warrior Games—an annual Paralympics competition held in Colorado Springs and sponsored by the USO—Snyder re-entered the world of competitive swimming for the first time since his injury.
“Here’s a guy with everything in the world going for him,” said Will Wilson, head coach of the Navy / Coast Guard Team. “A young lieutenant out there on the pointy end of the spear saving lives and he has a bad day—a bad day that robbed him of his sight. Fortunately it didn’t rob him of his soul, which has given him new vision toward competitive swimming and track.”
For Snyder, however, the way forward is sticking to the old vision he had when he mapped out his future.
“I want to do the same things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I want a family, I want a graduate degree, and I want a house of my own. My goals are still the same. I’m just a little more driven to accomplish them because I understand how easily situations can change.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer