One year to the day after losing his sight during a tour in Afghanistan, Brad Snyder won a gold medal at the 2012 London Paralympics. This year at the Games in Rio, he plans to top that.
"The challenge this year is to go down to Rio and win as many gold medals as possible," the 27-year-old told The Florida Times Union.
Snyder fell in love with swimming growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida. He kept up with the sport while attending the US Naval Academy, where he was captain of the swim team. After college, Snyder served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan working on explosive ordnance disposal.
On Snyder's second tour, in Afghanistan, he stepped on an explosive while transporting two injured service members. The blast was so shocking he thought he had died.
"In that moment, I had thought through everything and had reconciled my death, and thought, 'I'm okay. I'm okay to pass on,' " he told PEOPLE in November.
Snyder lived through the ordeal with what he describes as minimal lasting physical damage – except the loss of his vision. While recovering back in the United States, Snyder was approached multiple times by programs looking to help veterans get involved with adaptive athletics.
"I rejected the notion initially," he said. "But then I saw an opportunity to prove to my family and my community that I wasn't going to be a victim."
His return to swimming was nothing short of triumphant. After a few months of training, he earned a spot on the US Paralympic National Team. At the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Snyder won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle and another gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle. The last win came exactly one year after the blast that claimed his vision.
"It was such a tangible representation of how we had turned everything around," he says. "The gold medal replaces all the negativity of the day that I was blinded."
Snyder's incredible life story will soon be the subject of a film that's set to begin production this summer. Now, Snyder is busy training for his second Paralympics where he hopes to set a new world record for blind swimming.
He said he's taking more time to enjoy the magic of the process his second time around. "I got thrown into the Paralympics in 2012 and I didn't get a chance to enjoy the ramp up, enjoy the countdown, because I didn't really know what I was getting into," he said. – People
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