By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
LONDON, Sept. 5, 2012 - The opportunity to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games and to represent the United States in front of huge crowds has been a humbling experience, a U.S. Paralympic swimmer said here today.
"I don't get nervous very easily," he said. "I kind of pride myself on my stoicism and my ability to utilize my experiences in the Navy to stress-manage.
"But I got incredibly nervous the first time I came out in front of that crowd," he continued. "It's a very, very humbling experience to stand in front of that many people, and try to keep that distraction out and perform the way you want to."
Snyder, who lost his vision Sept. 7, 2011, in an improvised explosive device attack, has won two Paralympic medals here. He set a Paralympic record during the qualifying round of the 100-meter freestyle swim, with a time of 57.18 seconds. Later in the day, he captured a gold medal during the final round of the same event.
"Both times I hopped out from the box, it was definitely a challenge to mitigate that distraction and still do what I wanted to do," Snyder said. "It was really just ... a kind of 'in the clouds' type of experience."
The Navy lieutenant said he was grateful his U.S. Paralympic swimming teammates were there to support him for his inaugural event.
"It was really amazing to have my teammates behind me in my first swim," Snyder said. "It gave me a lot of confidence, gave me a lot of momentum, and it kind of released the burden of the rest of the weeks of competition."
Snyder also credited his military service with providing several skills beneficial to him as a blind swimmer.
"I think that earlier on in the military, you are [learning] a lot of virtues that set you up for success -- whether it's initiative, commitment ... [or] just being a regimented person," he said.
Being organized and motivated, Snyder said, were valuable tools he picked up in the Navy that have carried him throughout his military service.
"My entire naval career is all kind of built along this idea that I'm a go-getter," he said. "I want to go out and ... experience success in whatever realm is kind of put in front of me.
"Blindness was just a new problem-solving challenge to me. I prided myself on my ability to do that," Snyder added. "And once I reconciled the fact that I wasn't going to be able to see again, I just saw it as a new challenge and a new barrier to move past. And that's how I moved forward."
Snyder said his six years as a Navy diver translated to his abilities as a blind swimmer.
"Contrary to the public opinion of diving, we do a lot of diving where it's not like gorgeous fish and shipwrecks and stuff like that," he said. "It's diving in silt ... and having to do intricate tasks underwater, where you can't see anything. [Having to be] able to do things under the water, blind -- it's not the first time I've had to do any of those things."
Snyder said he believes the best is yet to come in his endeavors as a Paralympic swimmer.
"We work real hard, and I don't think we've tapped the potential I've had, but I've had an amazing experience here so far in London," Snyder said. "It's an honor just to be here competing with the other para-athletes."
Special Report: Military Paralympians
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans