Jun 13 Starting with Swimming

By Paul D. Bowker | June 13, 2012, 4 p.m. (ET)

Bradley Snyder clearly has outlined his athletic goals.

He wants to compete in the London 2012 Paralympic Games in swimming. Then, in 2016, when paratriathlon makes its Paralympic debut at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games, he would like to qualify in that event.

A first-year Paralympic athlete, Snyder won four swimming gold medals and three track and field gold medals at the 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, which were held in May at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Beginning June 14 at the Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center in Bismarck, N.D., the Navy Lieutenant will attempt to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team at the Paralympic Swimming Trials.

In preparing for the trials, while he was also beginning an internship with an analytical company in Baltimore, Snyder has covered 20,000 yards of swimming per week, or about 4,000 yards five times a week.

“I’m in a groove,” Snyder said. “I’m real happy with what’s going on.”

“I hope he makes it through the trials and earns his way to London,” said Bill Roberts, Snyder’s coach at the Naval Academy from 2003 to 2006.

Snyder, a 2006 graduate of the Naval Academy, lost his eyesight in September 2011 when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off during a day of military operations in Afghanistan. The incident happened while he was assisting in the evacuation of other military soldiers caught up in a different IED explosion. He considers himself to be fortunate. The explosion was far enough in front of him that his only injuries were lacerations to his face, a shattered eardrum and the permanent blindness.

“Outside of that,” he says, “I was completely healthy. I actually walked away from the incident.”

Just nine months later, Snyder is looking forward once again to wearing the colors of the United States in London. A former captain for the Navy swim team and a former high school swimmer in St. Petersburg, Fla., Snyder will compete in four events at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials: the 50 free, 100 free, 400 free and 100 fly.

“The 400 free, I think, is my best chance of making the team, and it’s also the event I feel the most comfortable in,” Snyder said.

Most of all, he wants a chance to be on the team.

“Competition is wonderful, especially when you’re on your high school team and you’re competing against other high schools, then it’s even better when you go to college and you’re on a college team going against other colleges,” Snyder said.

“But when you can say that you’re representing the country of the United States against other countries internationally, I think that’s the pinnacle of competition. And if you do that on a stage like the Paralympic Games or the Olympic Games, it’s arguably the best representation of competition as a whole.”

And once the 2012 Paralympic Games are over, Snyder will twist his focus toward the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games and paratriathlon. He plans to begin running next fall, purchase a tandem bike and train with his brother, Russell, who was his guide at the Warrior Games.

“I’d really like to participate in that (paratriathlon) and do as well as possible,” he said.

Snyder’s support network of family and friends has been instrumental in his recovery. Following the incident in Afghanistan and an extended hospital stay, he returned home to St. Petersburg.

He threw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in April. And he reconnected with McGee Moody, who recruited Snyder to Navy swimming before Moody moved on to become coach at the University of South Carolina.

When the Naval Academy swim team went south for a training trip over the Christmas 2011 holiday, the entire team went to the Snyders’ home for a spaghetti lunch hosted by Brad’s mom.

“I was able to touch base with a lot of the graduating seniors (and) the new freshman on the team,” said Snyder, a captain of the swim team his senior year. “I felt a kinship with the current roster, as well as all of my alumni friends.”

And when Snyder spoke, those Navy swimmers were listening.

“When Brad was speaking to the team, you could hear a pin drop,” Roberts said. “He definitely commanded immediate attention and respect, and well-deserved, of course.”

Imagine the response should he become a Paralympian this summer.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.