Golden Anniversary: Blind Navy EOD Officer Swims for Gold Exactly One Year After Combat Injury

Exactly one year after losing his sight in Afghanistan, Navy Lt. Brad Snyder earned a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Christopher Lee / Getty Images for NBC News

An “Alive Day” is the anniversary of the day a wounded warrior was injured in combat. Some look at it as the day he or she escaped death. It may also be the day many of these brave men and women were left with lifelong scars—both visible and invisible.

It is a day to celebrate, not to mourn.

For Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, today is that day—and it is Golden. It was one year ago today that the former Naval Academy swim team captain was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device while on patrol in Afghanistan. One year ago today that a bomb blast took his eyesight but left him with every bit of God-given drive and determination he was born with. Today he is showing the world that he is still just as great—just as valuable—as he always has been.

Today is a golden anniversary for Snyder because less than an hour ago he swam for his third Paralympics medal, this time defeating the competition in the 400-meter Freestyle, finishing with a time of 04:32:41—three seconds faster than his qualifying time.

In the span of one year he has progressed from a hospital bed to the medal stands at both the Warrior Games and the Paralympic Games in London. He is a shining example of the raw talent contained within our Armed Forces and a testament to the quality of rehabilitation through adaptive sport.

Congratulations Lieutenant Snyder! You are a hero and an inspiration to us all. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Learn more about Warrior Games and other USO Warrior and Family Care programs that help wounded warriors recover from combat injuries through adaptive sports.

Blinded EOD Tech to Swim on U.S. Paralympic Team

Blinded Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer Brad Snyder, right, is guided by his younger brother Mitchell as they race together to win the 1500 meter gold medal in track at the 2012 Warrior Games. Since his combat injury, Snyder has focused on track and swimming to bring new vision to his life. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

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.”

New Vision

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

Warrior Games Opening Ceremony Today!

U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and members of the USO and Rolling Thunder pose for a photograph after they raised flags over the World Trade Center construction site May 4, 2010, in New York. The Rolling Thunder motorcycle riders will bring the flag to the 2010 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. The competition for wounded service members will take place May 10-14 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/Released)

The Warrior Games kick off tonight with an opening ceremony in Colorado Springs, CO.  Although the opening ceremonies are by invitation only, plenty of events are open to the public; check the schedule by clicking here.

Over 200 athletes are representing each of the branches of the military in both individual and team competitions.  “A lot of what we are trying to do is show the value of not just competition, but of adaptive sports in the recovery and [the] maximum potential these individuals can reach post injuries or wounds,” Robert E. Moore Jr., chief of strategic communications at the Army’s Warrior Transition Command, told Judith Snyderman last week.

We’ll keep you updated with photos, videos and lots more throughout this ground-breaking week of competition.  Check out  a quick video that sets the stage for the Games…

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