Brad Snyder, a retired U.S. Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) officer, became totally and permanently blind after stepping on an improvised explosive device in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan. The very next year, he began his career as a Paralympic athlete winning three medals in swimming at London 2012. Tokyo will be Snyder’s first Paralympic Games since switching to the relatively new sport of paratriathlon.

Get to know Snyder, 37, ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics.

Military Service

Three of Snyder’s four grandparents served in the Navy, including his maternal grandfather, who was injured at the Battle of Midway. While in recovery, he fell in love with his nurse who became Snyder’s grandmother.

Snyder grew up eager to continue his family’s tradition of service. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan to diffuse bombs as part of the Navy’s elite bomb disposal squad.

During his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, he stepped on an IED, triggering an explosion. While the blast itself left Snyder’s extremities undamaged, shrapnel shot into his face and caused permanent blindness. His eyes were surgically removed and replaces with prosthetics.

Start in swimming

Snyder grew up by the ocean in St. Petersburg, Florida. At age 11, his father brought him to his first competitive swim team tryout. According to Snyder, he was the slowest swimmer of the group on day one, but his coach gave him a chance to improve. Snyder swam competitively at the Naval Academy, specializing in distance swimming.

Paralympics Debut

Less than a year after his injury and transition to training as a Paralympic athlete, Snyder debuted as a swimmer in the London 2012 Paralympics. He won gold in the 100m freestyle and 400m freestyle and took silver in the 50m freestyle. His gold in the 400 free came on the one-year anniversary of his injury.

The speed with which Snyder excelled as a Paralympic swimmer surprised even himself, unsure if the fast times he was producing in training would translate when it mattered.

“I had swam well up until that point, but it happened so fast it felt like I was living in a house of cards and at any moment it would all come crashing down around me,” Snyder said. “When I raced in London, I finally began to feel like it wasn't a fluke, and I belonged in that pool, in those heats, and on that podium.”

Transition to paratriathlon

When paratriathlon made its debut as a Paralympic event in 2016, Snyder was still focused on swimming (for good reason, he won three more gold medals and a silver). However, in 2018, Snyder announced he was transitioning to paratriathlon with a focus on Tokyo. In 2019, his second season in the sport, he won two bronze medals at the 2019 Yokohama ITU World Paratriathlon Series and 2019 Banyoles ITU Paratriathlon World Cup.

Snyder competes in the PT5 classification, which includes paratriathletes with a vision impairment.

Outside the pool

Snyder has several hobbies, including drawing, sculpting, playing guitar, reading and, of course, working out. He hopes to try adaptive surfing once his Paralympics career is over.

Married his wife, Sara, in November 2019. They live in Annapolis, Maryland where they train together almost every day.