Navy Lt. Brad Snyder may have lost his sight after an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan last September, but he hasn’t lost his vision … a vision of himself atop a podium sporting Olympic gold.
After one bomb went off, Snyder rushed to aid his comrades, and in the process, stepped on another. Snyder, 28, spent three weeks in intensive care, followed by five more recovering at home.
“It was relatively easy to come to grips with my injury quickly because I was in a high-risk position,” said Snyder, a Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer. “My friends and family were there with a lot of love and support, and that helped a lot.”
Nevertheless, he found himself doing some soul searching. “I asked myself, how can I continue my relevance and success I had in the Navy?” Snyder said. “The Paralympics program was the perfect way to do that.” Snyder, who grew up near the beaches of Florida and was a member of the Naval Academy swim team, has always felt comfortable in the water, and that’s what he gravitated to after his injury. That background and training helped him secure a No. 1 ranking in the 100-meter freestyle during the Paralympic Swimming Trials June 16. He is one of 227 American athletes who will compete in 19 sports at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He joins 19 other military veterans and active-duty service members who are on the team.
Snyder and his teammates will compete against a total of 600 swimmers who are vying for 148 medals in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly from Aug. 30 through Sept. 8. U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart recently hosted Snyder and 33 other Paralympic swimmers, along with their trainers and coaches, from Aug. 16-27, after the garrison was chosen by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be the official training location for the team before the games. The U.S. Olympic Committee and Department of Defense have a memorandum of agreement that allows for military support of para-athletes. Military involvement of the games was introduced by British government officials following World War II, to aid in the rehabilitation of wounded veterans.
Participation has grown exponentially since the first Parallel Olympics, or Paralympic Games, in 1960 and is now the second biggest sporting event in the world. The garrison began preparing early this spring for the athletes arrival after the Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation directorate was informed of the selection. Along with arranging and providing logistical support, Family and MWR ensured that every swimmer had a local sponsor to help them while abroad.
“When our command found out that Brad was coming, we [Naval Special Warfare Unit] jumped at the opportunity to help out one of our Navy brothers,” said Lt. Justin Farmer, who volunteered to sponsor Snyder during his training in Stuttgart.
Through his contacts, Farmer was able to reconnect Snyder to some of his Navy friends with whom he attended Explosive Ordnance Disposal School. Though the athletes were focused on training while here, they were able to enjoy Stuttgart and German culture. Many of the swimmers toured the Ritter Sport Factory, Porsche Museum and local historical sites between training sessions. “In the short amount of time we were here, we got an amazing taste of the history and culture of Stuttgart,” said Snyder, who is a self-proclaimed history buff. At a farewell dinner Aug. 25 on Patch Barracks, USAG Stuttgart Commander Col. John P. Stack spoke for the Stuttgart military community when he commented on the athletes’ poise and tenacity.
“Your ability to overcome the limitations of your disabilities and excel at what you do is something we can all learn from,” said Stack. “Know that everyone here in Stuttgart will be cheering you on as you go for the gold in London.”