Brad Snyder wins gold medal on one year anniversary of his injury

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Dec. 28, 2012, 12 p.m. (ET)
Brad SnyderNavy Lt. Brad Snyder stands on the podium after winning the men's 400 meter (S11) at the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Sept. 7, 2012. Snyder lost his sight on Sept. 7, 2011.

Highlighted by the London 2012 Paralympic Games, called the greatest Games ever by International Paralympic Committee President Sir Philip Craven, 2012 was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement in the United States and around the globe. Records were broken and legacies were made. From Dec. 20-31, will unveil the Top 12 moments of 2012 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.

What a difference a year made for Navy Lt. Brad Snyder.

On Sept. 7, 2011, Snyder lost his sight when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan. On Sept. 7, 2012, he stepped on to the top of the podium at the London 2012 Paralympic Games for the second time.

"It's not a poor anniversary,” said Snyder, who won the men’s 400 meter freestyle (S11) on the exact one year anniversary of losing his sight. “I'm really looking forward to celebrating how far myself and my family have been able to come over the past year."

Snyder finished the Games with three medals, all in the freestyle races. He was second in the 50m but claimed gold in the 100m and 400m.

"I'll have a lot of friends and family in the stands tonight,” he said after winning gold in the 400m. “It's a special night for all of us and we are going to look at this evening as a celebration. A celebration of conquest, if you like. Regardless of the outcome, we are all happy to be together, being in London and enjoying the experience."

His time, 4:32.41, was nearly six seconds faster than the 4:38.24 time of defending champion Enhamed Enhamed of Spain. China’s Bozun Yang, who won silver at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, finished in 4:41.73, a time good enough for bronze.

"I am not exceptional,” said Snyder, who swam at the U.S. Naval Academy. “I have just been provided with an exceptional family and an exceptional support network and I've been able to make the most of some great opportunities that have come my way. It's just a situation of exceptional circumstances and I feel very, very fortunate to be here today as opposed to where I was last year at about this time."

He was injured while aiding victims of another bomb.

Snyder said he “reconciled” becoming blind is by putting his injury into perspective. He is able to swim competitively, even though some of his friends have not been so fortunate. In fact, he is reminded of the military’s losses each day as he has a tattoo on his chest commemorating the loss of one of his fallen comrades.

“I’m still here,” said Snyder. “I have a lot of friends who didn’t make it back and were boarded up on C17s to be buried in Arlington. I’m not buried in Arlington. I’m here in London competing.”

Snyder was voted by his teammates to carry the U.S. flag at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“The toughest part of rehab was being taken out of the fight, not being able to serve anymore, not the way that I used to,” he said. “To be able to come out here and to keep in the fight and keep going and keep inspiring, and keep perpetuating some goodwill for our country means a lot. And to be able to carry that flag for my team… that’s probably the best thing to come away from this experience.”

When the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams visited the White House, Snyder and Mariel Zagunis, the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, also presented President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama with the U.S. flag that accompanied Team USA to London.

Amy Rosewater contributed to this report.