|Retired Navy Lt. Brad Snyder earned two golds and one silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.|
BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens eventually were showered with cheers by the sell-out crowd of 70,914 on Sunday when they scored a crucial 21-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Some of the biggest cheers, though, came before the game for a man who had absolutely nothing to do with football.
Brad Snyder, a retired Navy lieutenant, was picked as one of the “Hometown Heroes” that the Ravens honor before each game. The team selects someone involved with — or retired from — military service and recognizes them before the kickoff. The crowd clearly enjoyed Snyder’s comeback story of how he’s grown into one of the world’s top Paralympic swimmers after a horrific accident three years ago that robbed him of his sight.
The crowd roared when Snyder’s story was told by the public address announcer. They cheered even louder while watching a video of him winning a gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The moment clearly touched Snyder for several reasons.
“Nobody in that stadium knew who I was before I stepped on the field,” Snyder, now a Baltimore resident, said. “Then they knew, and in short order, they came to understand the significance of what that moment meant. That’s what the Paralympic Movement is all about. Nobody can really choose the challenges we face. We can choose the attitude with which we face those obstacles, and that’s the message we carry forward. Today, just for that brief moment, all of a sudden, we were all together.”
The accident that cost Snyder his vision came when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while with the Navy in Afghanistan in the fall of 2011. He wound up undergoing multiple surgeries in various locations during the following days before eventually landing in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and soon finding out he’d be blind.
While recovering in the hospital, Snyder became determined to show everyone that he’d not only be just fine but wouldn’t change. His big break came when he was introduced to adaptive athletics. He began swimming as a child in Florida and competed on the Naval Academy team for four years, and that's why doing it again seemed like a natural fit.
“I wanted to show them that I’m the same Brad I was before I lost my vision,” he said. “I’m the same person I was. I just can’t see.”
In his first race, at a meet held in February 2012 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Snyder earned a spot on the U.S. national team and finished fifth on the world list in the 50-meter freestyle. He found even more success in London, winning 100 and 400 freestyle races and taking second in the 50 free. He finished with two gold medals and a silver medal in seven events overall.
Snyder hasn’t slowed down since then. Now 30, he medically retired last year from the Navy. This past August, at the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships in California, Snyder won six gold medals and one bronze medal. He posted several times that were better than his efforts in London.
Snyder now trains full-time in Baltimore, working extensively with coach Brian Loeffler, who’s in charge of the Loyola University (Md.) swimming and diving programs. The swimmer is focusing on earning a spot at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and credited Loeffler with being a big help to his efforts.
That’s why Loeffler was one of the people at the Ravens’ game on Sunday when Snyder earned his “Hometown Heroes” honors. Snyder’s two brothers and sister, who works at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, where the Ravens play, were able to be present for the festivities.
Snyder wanted the fans at the football game to get the message that he always tries to give out. Yes, he’s hindered by a disability now, but don’t think any less of him.
“Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean … I’m weak,” Snyder said. “It just means that I can’t see. It just means that I have to adapt my lifestyle. My life is different, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.”
That’s why the roars from that crowd of over 70,000 people meant so much to Snyder. They clearly received, understood and appreciated Snyder's message.
“It’s an inspirational (moment),” he said. “That’s obviously the biggest audience I’ve ever stood in front of. It was a really cool thing."