London (NNS) -- Navy wounded warrior Lt. Bradley Snyder will compete on behalf of the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team in London Sept. 7, precisely one year after a combat wound left him blind.
Snyder was serving on a Special Forces bomb deactivation team in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device detonated in his face Sept. 7, 2011.
In addition to losing his vision, he sustained burns, lacerations, and facial fractures. Shortly after the incident, he was enrolled in Navy Safe Harbor, the Navy's wounded warrior support program.
"Lt. Snyder's astounding recovery further validates the mission of Navy Safe Harbor and serves as a powerful example of the healing power of sports," said Capt. Steve Hall, director of the program. "His accomplishments are the result of his drive, focus, and positive attitude, and we are proud to have played a role in his incredible journey."
Snyder already has competed in four Paralympic swimming events within the visual impairment classification. He won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle - setting a Paralympic record during the qualifying round with a time of 57.18 seconds - and a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle. He will compete in the 400-meter freestyle Sept. 7. Snyder currently holds the world record time for the event (within the visual impairment classification).
"It's going to be a pretty amazing experience to compete on that day," said Snyder. "To me, it means I've conquered blindness. I won."
Throughout the year, Snyder's Navy Safe Harbor non-medical care manager, Lt. Kristi Bickel, has established a strong bond with him. Both attended the Naval Academy and share many friends. Bickel said before Snyder's MEDEVAC arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in 2011, she felt as though she already knew him.
"His was my first very serious case, and it was really emotional. I remember how his mother - who had held it together so well before he arrived - broke down when he was transported off the plane," said Bickel. "But Brad started making jokes with his family right away and kept a positive attitude. I will never forget what he said: 'I am so lucky I only lost my eyes.' I have never known someone to completely view the glass as half-full."
In the weeks and months that followed, Bickel provided a great deal of support to the Snyder family. She served as the primary point of contact for the many people eager to visit them. She also arranged for Snyder's brother to travel to his bedside with support from the Hero Miles Program (through the Fisher House Foundation).
In addition, Bickel helped coordinate Snyder's Purple Heart ceremony, and she worked with the Walter Reed Judge Advocate to finalize his Power of Attorney document. She helped Snyder process travel claims and access entitlement pay. She also connected him with assistive technology support for his iPad, enabling him to communicate via e-mail.
"It has been amazing to see how much progress he's made. A lot of it is Brad's personality. I knew he would charge ahead. I just tried to make sure he didn't have to worry about anything else while he focused on getting well," said Bickel. "It has been great to see him complete the cycle, from recovery, to rehabilitation, to reintegration."
Bickel first discussed adaptive athletic reconditioning as a recovery tool with Snyder's family shortly after he arrived at WRNMMC. Prior to his injury, Snyder was an avid competitive swimmer who was captain of the Naval Academy swim team during the 2005-06 season. Less than eight months after his injury, Snyder competed in the third annual Warrior Games, where he earned seven gold medals. The Games also served as a reunion for Bickel and Snyder's mother and siblings, who call her a member of their family.
"I began swimming as soon as I left the hospital," Snyder said during the Games. "I'm not physically disabled, but navigationally disabled. When I swim, I can relax and not have to worry about whether I am going to walk into a wall or into a piece of furniture."
Today, Bickel is cheering on Snyder as a spectator at the Paralympics.
"It's wonderful to see Brad representing our country again," said Bickel. "His amazing story has been a source of inspiration that I can share with other recovering service members to help motivate them when they are working through their own recovery and rehabilitation."
The Navy Safe Harbor program is a key component of the Department of the Navy's 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative, which is designed to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency, and hone the most combat-effective force.
For more information about Navy Safe Harbor, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil. To access the latest news about Snyder's Paralympic achievements, visit the Navy Safe Harbor Facebook page (www.facebook.com/navysafeharbor).
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp/.