US blind Navy veteran strikes Paralympic gold in the pool

LONDON — When newly blinded U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder tired last fall of banging into walls as he learned to walk with a cane, he sought refuge in a place where he knew he’d find a level of comfort and reassurance.

He jumped into a pool and began swimming laps.

The former senior captain of the Naval Academy swim team, said it was an amazing experience. That dark, challenging world he had been so unexpectedly thrust into was replaced by one that felt normal, where the water and the strokes were like a return to the routine.

“Everything else, I’ve had to figure out all over again,� he said last month. “Like being a child again and you suck at everything. It’s so refreshing to be good at something.�

As it turns out, Snyder, who is swimming at the London Paralympics, is gold medal good.

It was exactly a year ago today that Snyder, a bomb diffuser on a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, lost his sight when he stepped on an hidden bomb device in an irrigation ditch.

Dirt and metal fragments hit both eyes and his face was burned and lacerated. Amazingly, the rest of his body was untouched. A week later, doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, D.C., surgically removed his eyes and replaced them with glass prosthetics.

After finding his way into the pool, Snyder’s competitive instincts quickly took over and he began thinking about the Paralympics.

“Early on in the military, you get a lot of virtues that set you up for success,� he said this week at a media conference. “Initiative, commitment, dedication, and just being a regimented person, being organized and motivated.

“My entire naval career was built alongside the idea that I’m a go-getter. I want to go out and experience success in whatever realm is put in front of me. Blindness was just a new problem-solving challenge for me.�

So far, he has a gold in the S11 100 metre freestyle and silver in the 50 free. He also has sixth and eighth place finishes in breastroke and backstroke.

Snyder is one of more than 20 injured war veterans competing on the U.S. Paralympic team.

Canada has none in London despite a campaign — Solider On — designed to get veterans who have been injured into sport for those with a disability.

Snyder says that when he was injured it was hard not to feel that he’d lost part of himself and to experience a loss of confidence in who he was. Excelling at Paralympic swimming, he says, has allowed him to gain back a sense of self.

“We all believe in this platform as a way for veterans to get back into the fight. It’s a crucial that you find something to motivate you, to develop a measure for success and experience relevance and fun again.

“It’s difficult to be handed a lack of capability and have to move forward. Sport is a great way to make that happen.�

Back home, Snyder is interning at a Baltimore software company, living in a corporate apartment and navigating with a cane.

In the pool, Snyder and other totally blind swimmers like Donovan Tildesley of Vancouver, who has been blind since birth, have tappers at each. Equipped with long poles on which a tennis ball is affixed, they lean over and tap the swimmer on either the head or shoulder to alert them when they are getting close to the end of the pool so the swimmer can either reach for the wall or execute a flip turn.

Snyder concedes it might all look a little silly to the casual viewer.

“I was talking to some of the Canadian athletes and, as a blind swimmer, you’re kind of the weirdo more or less of the pool. You’ve got some guy whacking you with a stick and it’s like ‘What’s his deal, man?’

“It’s a strange situation, so to come out here where we’ve got two whole heats of [S11] men and three heats for women, all competing blind, there’s tappers out the wazoo. That’s really unique.�



Article source: http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Blind+Navy+soldiers+strikes+gold/7201421/story.html

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Posted by on Sep 6 2012. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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