Seeing Gold: A Blind Soldier Swims to Win | Reader's Digest

Seeing Gold: A Blind Soldier Swims to Win

By Caitlin O'Connell

© iStockphoto/Thinkstock
This summer, America has an extraordinary opportunity to cheer on one of our country’s wounded warriors, Lt. Bradley Snyder, as he swims for the gold at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

I was deeply moved by author Bill Briggs’ inspiring three-part piece on the 28-year-old Navy lieutenant, who was serving in Afghanistan as an “explosive ordinance demolition specialist”—military jargon for “bomb defuser”—last fall. After rushing to the aid of two wounded Afghan soldiers, he was blinded by an IED blast.

During his recovery, Snyder sought comfort from the frustrations of physical therapy in the smoothness of his swimming strokes. He began training for the Paralympic Games, both to challenge other blind swimmers and to prove that his newfound obstacle would not break his spirit.

The way Snyder makes his way across the pool in complete darkness is nothing short of remarkable. He keeps silent count of his strokes to maintain a steady pace, and will occasionally brush his fingers against the lane line to ascertain his position. Snyder’s brother and coach act as his “tappers” on each side of the lane, gently tapping the swimmer on the back of the head with a padded walking cane to signal a flip turn or finishing kick.

At the swimming trials this past weekend Snyder shattered his personal best in the 400-meter freestyle, setting a new world record in the event for fully blind swimmers and securing his spot on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic team. He’ll be joining over 30 military veterans and active-duty soldiers competing in the Paralympics this summer.

Photo: © iStockphoto/Thinkstock