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Paralympics an inspiration to war-wounded athletes

Associated Press Modified: September 5, 2012 at 6:31 am •  Published: September 5, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — The explosion that took away Brad Snyder's sight couldn't touch the Navy lieutenant's fighting spirit.

A year after Snyder stepped on an improvised explosive device laid by Taliban that he was trying to detect while on duty in Kandahar, the American is swimming at the London Paralympics — and adding sporting medals to his military ones.

"It was pretty much immediate that I (decided I) was going to try and minimize my blindness as much as possible, and get out and pursue success," Snyder told The Associated Press. "Thankfully my support network was pretty savvy and said, 'You should check out this Paralympic swimming thing.'"

Snyder is glad he listened, having quickly excelled with the same determination he applied to clearing IEDs in one of the most dangerous Afghanistan assignments.

Before Friday's anniversary of the blast, Snyder has already been on the London podium twice: winning gold in the 100-meter freestyle and silver in the 50.

"This is something every kid dreams of when they are 8," he said. "I remember Tom Dolan winning the 400 IM in Atlanta (at the Olympics).

"Through blindness I've been able to experience a level of competition I never would have otherwise. So in a way I am very thankful for that."

Snyder is one of many servicemen in London using sports to aid their recovery after being horrifically injured on the front lines of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

"I hope that my generation," Snyder says, "the warriors coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq who are lying in bed missing a limb or whatever and they don't know what's next, can see my story and say: 'Hey, that's for me. If he can do it, I can too.'"

Snyder's remarkably fast journey from the battlefield to elite sporting competition began soon after he discovered he would never see again.

He is one of the lucky ones, as shown by the tattoo commemorating a fallen comrade that adorns his chest.

"In my line of work, I had seen quite a few injuries due to blasts, and none of them were very good," Snyder said. "I was able to see out of my left eye for a brief moment after I was blown up.

"I looked down and saw I had both my legs and both my arms, and immediately felt relatively optimistic about the outcome. I felt very thankful that maybe this isn't going to be so bad."

There are 20 wounded servicemen on the U.S. Paralympic team, with six veterans of the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts.

"To put a different uniform on, to put a track uniform on instead of my country's combat uniform — it's a big honor," said Chris Clemens, who will compete in the 100 and 200 sprints and long jump.

Clemens sustained brain injuries while serving as a Navy Seal in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded at an Afghan camp. He now competes in the classification group for athletes with cerebral palsy.

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