Monday was a typical morning at the Loyola University pool. Brad Snyder put in his laps. His coach Brian Loeffler, like always, watched closely. So is Gizzy. Brad’s guide dog. Brad is blind.
“When I swim it’s one of the rare things that I do in my life now that feels like what I used to do in my able-bodied life,” said Snyder. “When I swim I don’t feel blind.”
The 32-year-old hasn’t always been without sight. He grew up a star swimmer in Florida. He was the captain of the swim team at The Naval Academy before being deployed. But on September 7, 2011 his life changed forever.
“I was part of a bomb squad for the Navy for about seven years. I made two deployments. One to Iraq, one to Afghanistan,” Snyder said. “And unfortunately during the tail end of my deployment to Afghanistan, while on a combat mission, I stepped on an improvised explosive device that was buried in the ground.”
The blast detonated in front and behind Brad, saving his arms and legs. But he took brunt of it in his face, losing both of his eyes. He now has prosthetics. Brad’s recovery was extraordinary. He moved to Baltimore and soon found his way back in the water. A year later he won two golds and a silver at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. On Monday he was named to the United States’ official Paralympic roster for the games in Rio.
“Now I’ve been able to build a new life through the Paralympic movement," he said. "When people see me swimming they see me as strong, they see me as confident, they see me as fast. They don’t see me as a blind person struggling with day-to-day things. They see me as ‘wow that guy can swim and he can swim well’ and I like that.”
Brad heads to Rio as the favorite to win three events. And when the games kick off in a couple weeks they will hold extra special meaning for this American hero.
“Opening ceremonies I’ll be walking out with team USA on September 7, 2016. In the military we call it our ‘alive day’. It’s our ‘alive day’ because it’s a day that we could have and very well should have died,” said Snyder. “But being able to have a second chance at life means so much more. Life is very rich after an experience when I laid on the ground in Afghanistan and, in effect, reconciled my own death. To come back is amazing enough.”
Brad leaves for Houston later this week for more training. He flies to Rio on September 1.
United States Paralympics tells us the following are 2016 Paralympians with ties to Maryland:
**Name - Hometown/Current residence (Sport)
Gail Gaeng - Frederick, Md./Champaign, Ill. (Wheelchair Basketball)
Trevon Jenifer - Huntingtown, Md./Edinboro, Pa. (Wheelchair Basketball)
Jessica Long - Baltimore, Md./Baltimore, Md. (Swimming)
Hannah McFadden - Clarksville, Md./Champaign, Ill. (Track & Field)
Tatyana McFadden – Clarksville, Md./Champaign, Ill. (Track & Field)
Rebecca Meyers - Baltimore, Md./Timonium, Md. (Swimming)
Markeith Price - Baltimore, Md./Hagerstown, Md. (Track & Field)
Daniel Romanchuk - Mount Airy, Md./Mount Airy, Md. (Track & Field)
Brad Snyder - Baltimore, Md./Baltimore, Md. (Swimming)