U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, who was injured in Afghanistan in Sept. 2011, won two gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
BALTIMORE — Brad Snyder has to pause and think about how he is going to answer this question: Are things getting back to normal now that the Paralympic Games are over?
Truth be told, Snyder said, there is no normal anymore.
A little more than a year ago, the U.S. Navy Lieutenant was in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) that left him permanently blind. But the former swimming captain at the U.S. Naval Academy decided to return to the pool and within months, he earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. In London, he earned two gold medals — one on Sept. 7, the year anniversary of his injury — and a silver medal.
He was named the U.S. flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and even presented a flag to President Barack Obama when the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams were honored at the White House.
Since then, he has been busy transitioning from the Navy back into civilian life. He is back to work at a Baltimore software company called RedOwl Analytics, which was founded by West Point graduates. And he is deciding what path he might take as an athlete. He could continue to train in the pool. Or he might try to compete in paratriathlon, which will make its debut in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
So depending on how one describes normal, Snyder said, “Each day I’m much closer to that newly defined word.”
As Veterans’ Day approaches this Sunday (the U.S. government will celebrate the holiday on Monday), Snyder certainly will be remembering those who were not as fortunate as he in combat. And he hopes that his participation in events, such as the Paralympic Games, will prompt other veterans to become involved in the movement.
“The veteran community has been very near and dear to my heart,” he said.
Snyder had family members who were in the military and lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., for a while and often visited the U.S. Air Force Academy. He visited the Naval Academy when he was a sophomore in high school and became set on going to school in Annapolis.
He competed in the Warrior Games presented by Deloitte earlier this year in Colorado Springs and hopes to return this year but from the sidelines.
“I would rather that my roster spot would go to someone else, but I would love to be involved as a coach or a supporter,” he said.
Although he has not resumed swimming training since the Games, which ended Sept. 9, he has been busy on the athletic side. A week ago, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon with his brother, Russ, as his guide, in Washington, D.C. They finished in just under five hours. The two are hashing out plans to purchase a tandem bicycle and are trying to navigate the world of paratriathlon.
“It would be a wonderful opportunity to be a part of paratriathlon’s debut in Rio and to train with my brother and share that experience with him,” Snyder said.
Even so, he is still hesitant to make any decisions when it comes to Rio. He enjoyed his experience training at the Meadowbrook pool (where Michael Phelps got his start) and working with coach Brian Loeffler, and, of course, his experience in London. Loeffler said he expects to start working with Snyder again in the next few weeks.
Snyder has had Loeffler’s support and the backing of his co-workers. RedOwl, which contacted Snyder while he was in the hospital, tries to assist veterans transitioning into the corporate world, and said he hopes his experience will help other corporations to look to employ veterans.
Snyder also has had the support of his entire family. His mother, Valerie, brothers Russ and Mitchell and sister, Elyse, were all in London supporting him as were several friends from the Naval Academy. His father died shortly before Snyder suffered his own injury.
When asked about the best part of his Paralympic experience, it wasn’t so much the gold medals or standing on the podium — although those weren’t too bad, either.
“It was being able to go to the stands and hug my mother after the 400 (the race he won on the anniversary of his injury),” Snyder said. “It was very emotional. We had lost my dad and then there was my injury and so to be able to be in London all together was very memorable. We weren’t going to let this conquer us.”
Oddly enough it was being in the military that helped him overcome his combat injury.
“The military does a lot to make you deal with challenges,” Snyder said. “You move around all the time and have to make new friends. You have to carry out difficult tasks and learn how to communicate. It is a very intense skill set. So with my blindness it was just a new challenge for me. It’s just a new problem set.
“This is just the next thing to overcome.”
Until the new normal comes along.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.