At the 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder sat among his teammates as retired U.S. Army First Lieutenant Melissa Stockwell, a 2008 U.S. Paralympian injured in Iraq, lit the cauldron to start the Games.
“It was so inspiring to know that Melissa Stockwell was injured in combat but went on to compete at the Paralympic Games,” said Snyder, who competed in swimming and track events at the Warrior Games.
Fast forward one year.
Now it is time for Snyder to inspire.
On Saturday at the Opening Ceremony of the 2013 Warrior Games, Snyder, who won three medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, will act as the honorary torchbearer.
“It is hard to imagine it has only been a year since I was competing at the Warrior Games,” Snyder said. “It was just a year ago that the Paralympics were just a dream. At this time last year, the Paralympics were just a whisper of an idea, something that I didn't think was possible.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder won three medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, including a gold medal in the men's 400-meter freestyle (S11) on the exact one year anniversary of losing his vision.
In Sept., Snyder won two gold medals and added a silver at the Paralympic Games. Snyder topped the podium in the men’s 400-meter freestyle (S11) on the exact one year anniversary of losing his sight to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan(Sept. 7).
“It is kind of crazy, very strange to be the torchbearer now and not the athlete,” Snyder said. “I took the opportunity that I had here at the Warrior Games last year and I hope I inspire someone at this year’s Warrior Games to do the same.”
The Warrior Games is a Paralympic-style competition for 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans who represent all U.S. service branches and the British Armed Forces. It takes place May 11-16 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“My advice to athletes is to dream big and aim to break through the limitations they think they have. The sky really is the limit so think beyond the medals won here,” Snyder said. “The Warrior Games are a great competition in itself but can be a gateway to a lot of other opportunities, especially grassroots sports programs and even the Paralympic Games.”
Snyder swam to a spot on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team at the U.S. Paralympic Trials - Swimming just a month after competing at the Warrior Games. But the possible transition from the Warrior Games to the Paralympic Games was not on his mind last May.
“The rehab aspect of the Warrior Games is critical,” Snyder said. “But for me, the physical rehabilitation, and my ability to be active and compete, was secondary to how the Games helped me rehab the relationship with my family. The Warrior Games helped me show them that I survived and that I would be able to live my life.”
Following his injury in Afghanistan, Snyder spent three weeks in intensive care and then recovered for another five weeks in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla. It was eight months after that he competed at the Warrior Games, a timespan that was filled with outreach from wounded warrior organizations and programs.
“Everyone celebrates us while our caregivers receive the burden of our injuries and our recovery,” he said. “Watching your husband come off the aircraft on an incubator or seeing your child with scars and stitches, which was the case for my mom, is in an incredible weight. The Warrior Games was an opportunity for some of that weight to be lifted off my family.”
Snyder’s mother and sister assisted him in the swimming competition while his brother acted as a guide in track events. “For me, the best part of the Warrior Games was that bond I solidified with my family,” he said.
The Games also allowed Snyder to be a leader again.
“All of the athletes here at the Warrior Games have the opportunity to go back to their communities and be the leaders that the military has taught us to be,” Snyder said.
“We can enable others with a disability to come out of the woodwork and become active,” Snyder said. “It does not just have to be other service members; it can be that blind child or that teenager with cerebral palsy. We can show people what they are capable of and make them think ‘I can do that too.’”
Snyder has been active throughout the country promoting sport since competing at the Warrior Games and Paralympic Games.
“My point of pride is that the Warrior Games may be a one-day event for some of these athletes but there are 364 other days of the year when they’re able to be in their communities, enabling people to pursue sport,” Snyder said.
“The Warrior Games allows us to be more than athletes.”
For more on the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/WarriorGames/.