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From the Ranks: Blind Navy swimmer headed to London

Jul. 12, 2012 - 07:50PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 12, 2012 - 07:50PM  |  
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson visits with members of the Navy/Coast Guard team during the swimming events at the 2012 Warrior Games. At center, Lt. Brad Snyder is shown.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson visits with members of the Navy/Coast Guard team during the swimming events at the 2012 Warrior Games. At center, Lt. Brad Snyder is shown. (MC2 David Danals / Navy)
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Navy Lt. Brad Snyder was in charge of an explosive ordnance disposal platoon supplementing SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan last September when he triggered an improvised explosive device. The blast left him irreversibly blind.

Now he's headed overseas again — this time competing as a swimmer at the 2012 London Paralympics at the end of the summer.

Snyder swam competitively for the Naval Academy and knew he would get back into the water after his injury.

"I adopted this mentality that I wanted to try as many things as I could," Snyder said.

Two big challenges to swimming without sight are staying straight in the lane and not crashing into the walls. Snyder feels for the floating lane dividers with his fingertips to ensure he doesn't brush against them with his body. He also uses a tapper at either end of the pool. The tapper stands on the edge of the pool with a walking cane and taps the swimmer on the head to let him know he is getting close to the wall and should execute a turn. While Snyder said he trusts his tappers, collisions do happen.

"It's sort of like jumping off the high dive or ripping off a Band-Aid. You know it could go poorly, but considering the negative outcomes doesn't get you used to it," he said.

Blind swimmers' inability to see the competition eliminates the mental aspect of racing, forcing swimmers to compete against themselves, Snyder said.

While also preparing for the transition to civilian life, Snyder is training for the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle, the 100-meter backstroke, the 100-meter breaststroke, the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley.

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