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Learning a lesson or two from Paralympic athletes

Sep 11, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

For U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, Sept. 7, 2011, was a horrible, horrible day. It was a tough day for his family too. And for Snyder, his family, his friends and, really, all of us, Sept. 7 one year later was a grand day.

On Sept. 7, 2011, Snyder was blinded while attempting to disable an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Like so many ultra-brave Americans, Snyder paid a severe price for his service to our country, and we are all so very grateful, especially today, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's what happened next that we can all take a step back from, think about for a moment, and, hopefully, learn from too.

Snyder was born in Reno, Nev., and went to high school in Florida. In 2006, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy where he was captain of the swim team. He also had earned a degree in naval architecture and later advanced to the rank of lieutenant.

His Wikipedia page says, "He served in Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal officer. In September 2011, he lost both of his eyes after stepping on an IED in an attempt to help victims of another bombing. The explosion also gave him lacerations to his face and a shattered eardrum. Snyder subsequently spent three weeks in intensive care, and then recovered for another five weeks in Florida."

"When you're kind of patching your life back together and figuring out how to adjust to blindness, you're not good at anything," he said. "Walking was a challenge. Cooking's a challenge. Dressing and color matching is a challenge. There are all these things that used to be no problem that are all of a sudden really challenging. I had a hard time getting the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush, because I can't see it."

His mom flew in from Florida to be at his side when he woke up back in the United States. That's when doctors told them his blindness would be total -- and permanent. The only color he sees is dark.

"I stayed with him in the room that night, and at 4 o'clock in the morning he sat up, and he said, 'It's going to be all right. Mama, we're gonna get through this, every thing's going to be fine.' And he's been like that ever since," Snyder's mom told the BBC.

So what did he do nine months later?

Snyder won four gold medals in swimming and four gold medals in track at the Warrior Games in June in Colorado Springs, Colo.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the ceremony, saying she was in awe of the perseverance of America's wounded warriors. We should be too.

But Snyder wasn't done. On Sept. 7, exactly one year after his most awful day, Snyder won his second gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the Paralympic Games in London.

On Sunday, he carried our country's flag in the closing ceremonies of the most successful and most competitive Paralympic Games ever.

Brad Snyder should cause us all to pause, take note of what we are thankful for, and decide what we can do, not what we can't.

Have a great sports week! Go Big Red.

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