CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Like many young people, high school senior Brad Snyder was drawn to the military while watching the events of September 11, 2001 unfold.
“It had a huge impact on me, made me want to serve, made me want to go to the Academy, made me want to be a leader in the service,” said Snyder.
At the U.S. Naval Academy, he was trained to search for explosives. After a tour in Iraq, Lieutenant Snyder was sent to Afghanistan. While on foot patrol, he stepped on a hidden bomb placed by the Taliban. "Really changed my life in kind of an instant," said Snyder.
Snyder lost his vision, but not his determination. "It's an incredibly daunting thing to think about. It's almost like diving off of the high dive and not knowing how to swim."
Snyder knew how to swim and learned how to survive. Last summer, one year after losing his sight, he was in the pool in London for the Paralympics. "When I hopped in at first, I could just do it autonomously. There's a lane on both sides and a wall on either side and the challenge is just basically being able to identify when the wall is coming.”
Snyder walked away with one gold and two silver medals. "I'm glad that I was able to have an opportunity like the Paralympics to succeed on a grand scale and give back to those people who believed in me and wanted to invest their time, love and support in a guy like me."
That success led to a White House visit and a platform for those "wounded warriors" struggling to find their footing. "I've been really fortunate that not only my military brotherhood, but my family and local community have been very supportive of me getting back to seeking success, despite my disability."
An organization in Baltimore that helps veterans transition to civilian life, extended a hand to Snyder by helping him get an apartment and a job.
The challenges he faced in the military prepared him well for the new challenges in life. "Each new skill that I had to learn, I looked at it as a new challenge that I had to undergo. Just like learning to jump out of an airplane, I had to learn how to use a cane to walk. Just like learning how to make homemade explosives, I had to learn how to cook again with blind-adaptive technology."
As Snyder navigates his way through the civilian world, he focuses on not what he's lost, but what he's gained. "I've gained an immense amount of perspective. Before injury, I was a pretty selfish person. But, everything I've done since then, I recognize the amount, the incredible power of community and I really try to leverage my effort to help others and pay it forward."
Snyder is an intern for a software company and works for a non-profit foundation that helps veterans transition to the civilian world. He was a guest of Charlotte Bridge Home, an organization that helps veterans and their families in Mecklenburg County.