On the morning of his 400-meter-freestyle race, Bradley Snyder was acknowledging the day he lost his sight – exactly one year ago. Snyder, 28, was serving as a bomb defuser in when he stepped on a hidden bomb in an Afghan farm filed. His first thought after being hurtled backward and hitting the ground was to take inventory of his body parts. He saw that both his arms and legs were still intact and that was the last thing he ever saw.
The burn he sustained on his face robbed him of his sight shortly thereafter but it took another five days before he realized he’d be blind permanently. The same blackness that washed over him then is what he sees today.
While the injury has certainly presented challenges, it hasn’t stopped Snyder. He swam the race in four minutes, 32.41 seconds – his personal best and took home two gold medals and one silver in the 2012 Paralympics amid the cheering of friends and family who were there with him in London.
Snyder swam for a variety of reasons. He has a competitive nature and swan for his Naval Academy team before he was injured. He wanted to show others that challenges and obstacles don’t have to stop you and he wanted to repay the love he felt from friends, family and his Navy friends who supported him through his recovery. Above all, he wanted to show his mother, Valerie, that she didn’t have to worry about him anymore, that he would be just fine, even blind.
On Sept. 7, 2011, Valerie heard her telephone ring at 5:30 a.m. and immediately saw the “unknown caller” tag on the phone. That was the same label that appeared whenever Bradley called from Afghanistan but he normally called at 11:00 a.m. She didn’t want to answer the call. She did, however and learned that Bradley had been hit in the face by a bomb blast and was in surgery. Shortly afterwards, she joined Bradley at a stateside hospital where he told her this would not change his life.
AS Valerie watched her son win the gold that day, she knew he was going to be just fine. With her two other sons, her daughter and her sister by her side, the same group that had gathered around Bradley’s hospital bed near Washington D.C. when they learned that no surgery could restore Bradley’s sight, Valerie wept for joy.
Snyder’s coach, Brian Loeffler, was the first to realize that Bradley’s swim would coincide with the anniversary of his injury. At first, he only mentioned it to Valerie but decided to tell Snyder a week later. He wanted the man to focus on the special day. Loeffler put everything into Snyder’s training, wanting to see him win a medal on that day. With Snyder’s sunny outlook, it was dream come true.