PHOENIX, Arizona, September 21. MANY inspirational athletes competed at the London Paralympics, and one of those was Brad Snyder, who joins today's edition of The Morning Swim Show.
Snyder relives the day in September 2011 when a roadside bomb injured and permanently blinded him while serving in the Navy in Afghanistan. He talks about his bomb-defusing training and why he chose that profession. His recovery period involved not only physical therapy, but adjusting to living as a blind person. The upside of the tragedy was an appearance at the Paralympics, which earned him three medals, an opportunity to carry the flag at the closing ceremonies and a meeting with President Obama. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Jeff Commings: This is the Morning Swim Show for Friday, September 21st, 2012. I am your host Jeff Commings. There were a lot of emotional storylines that came from this year's Paralympics Games, and one of them was Brad Snyder's. One year after using his eyesight while serving in the Navy in Afghanistan, Snyder was on top of the medal podium twice in London and he is here now in the FINIS Monitor to talk about it all. Brad, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Brad Snyder: I am great, sir. How are you?
Jeff: Doing great. Thanks you. Good to have you here. Let's start off back in that day in September 2011 in Afghanistan. What do you remember about the day that you stepped on that bomb?
Brad: I remember pretty much everything. My unit was trying to safely evacuate a few of our Afghan partners for us who had also been injured and unfortunately I stepped on a secondary explosive device that was buried in the ground not too far from where the original personnel were injured, and I remember everything from the sound of the explosion to waking — or kind of like looking down and actually could still see out of my left eye. I still know that I had both my legs and both my arms and that it seemed like you know I was going to be able to make a quick recovery so once my friend got to me — I was able to stand up and walk away and that was huge so it was a pretty crazy day.
Jeff: So it was pretty much a case of no one knew that that bomb had been placed there at all?
Brad: That is correct. I mean that was really the problem that we contended with on a daily basis was you know where they were trying to booby trap our movements and things like that, so you know we got caught off guard with the first blast and then the second one caught me off guard as well so I guess that is just the name of the game.
Jeff: Yeah, you went to Navy and you learned about bomb defusing and then when you started to serve in active duty that was kind of your primary job, correct, to defuse bombs?
Brad: Yeah, that is correct. I actually didn't learn about bomb defusing until after I graduate from college so my college undergraduate was in Naval Architecture and then upon receiving my commission went to a follow-on school down in Fort Eglin in Florida where I learned, you know I spent about 13 months learning all the aspects of bomb defusal from missiles to grenades to underwater bottom mines and things like that and again that took about 13 months.
Jeff: I am curious about this. I mean as you said you didn't learn about this in the Navy. You learned about it when you went into active duty. What got you interested in pursuing a line of work where pretty much every day you go in knowing that you know when you are going to defuse a bomb there is a 50/50 chance of you not surviving that day?
Brad: Well we try to mitigate that chance as much as possible by utilizing remote tools and things like that. So we try to keep it down to a, maybe not 50/50, maybe 1 in 10. I don't know, but I got involved in that program initially because the Navy has got a robust diving program and explosive ordinance disposal happens to be intimately involved in the diving programs in the Navy and there are no — at this point in the Navy there are no officer dive billets only EOD billets and that was where my initial interest. And that I had to screen to be able to become a part of the community and I was always, always looking for a challenge and I just really was enamored with the different aspect of the community from scuba diving to sky diving to just to the complexities of the problem at hand and really kind of fell in love with it early on and really love the people I worked with was really a huge attraction as well, but you know the Navy Bomb Disposal Schools is one of two different aspects of the Navy where officers and enlisted go through the same school and we are very tight knit, in small community and it has just been an amazing experience to work with those guys so you know that is what got me involved in the first place.
Jeff: After this incident, September 2011, how long was your recovery period?
Brad: So I was in intensive care for approximately 3 weeks and then was transferred down to a VA facility in Tampa, Florida, where I spent about 5 weeks physically recovering from the injuries I had sustained to my face and my hand and then I guess that for earlier the 8 week mark I was pretty much completely healed and began to take what they call blind rehab. I was transferred to another facility in Georgia where I would spend my day kind of a traditional schoolhouse setting learning different aspects of blind living whether it is cooking blind or walking blind or using a computer that speaks to me and those different things and that took about 3 months. I finished complete rehab on the 10th of February and then was released to the wild and began you know my new career as a blind person.
Jeff: What do you say has been the biggest adjustment to being blind?
Brad: The most difficult adjustment is the lack of autonomy you experience, so anywhere that I go new you can't just walk around and find the bathroom on my own or go grab a hot dog or whatever. I have to have you know to be on someone's arm and I have to have someone help me and when I need a ride to go to the drug store to get more toothpaste I have to have my brother or my mother or a friend take me and I can't just do those things on my own anymore and that was frustrating at first. I was a very, very autonomous person and you know that, you know, taking that hit was one of the most difficult so I would say that is the biggest adjustment, but I've gotten pretty used to it. I have gotten used to figuring out how to do most things myself and the things I can',t then you know I have learned how to ask for help and that was a hard thing to do.
Jeff: What are you doing specifically in the Navy now?
Brad: So right now the Navy has given me permission to pursue an internship in Baltimore. I work for a small software company called Red Owl Analytics. The founders are, one is active duty and one is a veteran and so they are involved in the Foundation where they aid veterans making transitions. So the idea while I am waiting for the administrative process of medically retiring to go through, I am pursuing an internship where I can learn as much about corporate life and business as possible so I can facilitate a good transition from the military life to life as a civilian.
Jeff: After your injury was there any concern on your part about what you would be able to do especially with not having eyesight?
Brad: Absolutely, I mean there was a lot of doubt, especially early on and that is where you know the rehab process was really you know an involved one but thankfully the support through the VA system and my family and friends, we were able to figure out ways to mitigate you know all the things I can't really do. I adopted a mentality early on to say that there is nothing I can't do other than really drive a car and fly an airplane, which you know I can actually do those things, just not so safe to do. So you know I have been able to find ways around all the things that are challenging. You know the computer that talks and a bar code reader in the kitchen and little tricks of the trade that really help me reestablish that autonomy and find ways to do the things that I used to do.
Jeff: Yeah, a lot of things probably that blind people didn't have 10, even 15 years ago.
Brad: Yeah they told many, many times that if there was a time to go blind, now is the right time and we have got the iPhones are great, very, very accessible and amazing interface for blind people. I don't know if you have seen it in the news that they have got the Google car out there that is hopefully going to be an autonomous driving platform so blind people will be able to go back to the drug store and pick up that toothpaste. So you know, really excited about the prospect of blind technology and really thankful that you know that is available to me and I am able to utilize it on a daily basis.
Jeff: Well if there is an upside to all this. It would be that you got to go to the Paralympics in London and you walked away with 2 gold medals in the 100 and 400 freestyle, silver in the 50 freestyle. Had to be one of probably – I mean you have been a swimmer all your life. I mean you were Captain of your swim team at Navy but I mean is this something that you ever thought would be possible, while you are lying in bed trying to recuperate from this?
Brad: No, not at all and it is not even something I ever thought I would be able to do in life. I mean early on in high school, I think we all, you know we are training with that idea that maybe one day I could throw on the cap with the flag on it and it has got my name on it and you know compete in the Olympics will just be an amazing experience, but I think as my career waned and I was at the Navy I realized the prospect of joining the Olympic team was pretty dismal. So I kind of gave up those hopes and started rooting for the people who did make the team and then the opportunity to compete as a Paralympian really caught me off guard and was just an absolutely amazing opportunity and I was very, very excited to participate on the roster and it was even better to be able to champion that, so I am really ecstatic and it hasn't even really settled in at this point. I am still catching up and still thinking about it and wow, it really truly was an amazing experience.
Jeff: Of all the races you swam, which one was you think was your best one?
Brad: By far the 400 meter. I remember standing on the pool deck with my Coach Brian Loeffler at the Loyola Pool and talking about the idea that idea would be able to compete on the same day I lost my sight. 400 meters is where I feel the most comfortable as far as the Paralympic set of event goes. I was miler in college and to be able to extend the distance out a little further is definitely an advantage to me and it is the race I feel the most comfortable in and to be able to compete on such a special day was amazing and I happen to execute it relatively well, according to what we set out and do. My prelim swim was you know not too much in the way of digging too hard you know effortless and smooth and I was really happy with that time and then got after the little bit more at night and was able to shave some more time off. So I am really happy with that swim, but definitely looking forward to trying to bring some more time off of that in the next few years. There is a really long standing record in that event and I think collectively myself and my competition really want to see that go down so I am looking forward to training for that again.
Jeff: Just to kind of give our viewers a little idea of what it is like to compete at the Paralympics for blind swimmers, all blind swimmers have to wear blacked-out goggles. Is that correct?
Brad: That is correct. I actually get an exception because I have prosthetic eyes. Thankfully the International Paralympic Committee sees through that – no pun intended, so I don't have to wear the blacked-out goggles, but if there is any doubt whatsoever in the doctor's mind that you may or may not be able to perceive light. Even the perception of light can be construed as an advantage, so all my classification's called the S-11 classification all blind swimmers must wear blacked-out goggles and all blind swimmers utilize a tapper on either end of the pool to indicate to the swimmer that you are approaching the wall and you need to execute a turn as best as possible and that happens in all strokes.
Jeff: Now something we had thought about on Twitter. I don't know if you saw this is a nice little match race with you and Michael Phelps, say maybe in a 200 free where you are both wearing blacked-goggles. I don't know, maybe you would have an advantage because you are used to it. I mean both of you are in the Baltimore area. I mean it couldn't be that difficult maybe to get you two together and maybe see how that would go.
Brad: No, I would love to maybe issue that challenge for me that would be great. I think that Michael had an absolutely amazing swimmer and don't think that he would have any trouble with it, but I think it would be interesting and if we could do it for charity I think that wonderful and you are right he is just right up the street and that would be a fun event to coordinate for sure.
Jeff: Well if Michael Phelps is watching this, maybe we will hear from them. We will get that going for you. There is one more thing. What has been the best part of being a Paralympian: winning the gold medal, carrying the flag of the closing ceremonies or getting to meet President Obama?
Brad: I will combine the two of those. Being able to present the flag that I carried to President Obama was really an amazing experience. There is a lot that went into that flag and that was the flag that was carried on the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and I got to close both of them out by carrying at the end of the Paralympics and that was a special flag and I have told a lot of people one of the other difficult aspects of my recovery was the idea that I had really my ability to serve taken away from me, you know I wasn't able to continue my deployment. I wasn't able to continue doing the things that was an Explosive Ordinance disposalman so to be able to wear a new uniform and to carry the flag on behalf of my country and represent team U.S.A. was absolutely an amazing experience and to be able to bring that flag home and give it to our President and honor him and honor the team, just absolutely an experience I will remember for the rest of my life for sure. It was just fantastic.
Jeff: Well, Brad, obviously nobody wishes you know the kind of tragedy you experienced last year but it definitely seems like it is really becoming a positive for you and we are really glad that, that is happening for you. Congratulations on not just the Paralympics but everything that you have been able to do ever since then and we look forward to seeing you chase that record as you said and continuing your success in the pool.
Brad: Thank you sir. I appreciate taking the time out to chat with me and I appreciate everyone who took the time to view.
Jeff: My pleasure Brad. We will see you soon.
Brad: All right, take care.
Jeff: All right so that is Brad Snyder joining us on the Morning Swim Show today and that is going to do it for today's edition of the show. We invite you as always to post your thoughts on topics discussed on today's show either on our website or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. I am Jeff Commings. Thanks for watching.
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