On Sept. 7, of last year Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder was crossing a culvert with his Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team near Kandahar, Afghanistan when a nearby Afghani soldier stepped on the pressure plate of an improvised explosive device and froze.
Lt. Snyder, diving to disarm the hidden bomb, tripped on a similar device and the blast hurled him in the other direction. When he regained consciousness he was surprised neither his legs nor arms were missing. But when he began to run to an awaiting evac helicopter, his eyesight slid away. Both retinas were shredded by the blast and he has been totally blind ever since.
On Sept. 7, of this year,one year to the day when his world dramatically changed, Navy Lt. Brad Snyder won the gold medal with a record-breaking performance in the 400-meter freestyle at the London Paralympics and, on Monday night, standing straight and proud, he carried our American flag in the closing ceremonies.
You may have missed the Paralympic Games, where 20 wounded warriors took part in thrilling 80,000 Londoners in precisely what Army General Martin Dempsey described at the start of the Games. “We celebrate, not just the accomplishments but, as importantly, the commitment these athletes who don’t define their lives in terms of their disabilities but, rather, in terms of their abilities. It’s just phenomenal.”
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SCOT SEVERN was with the Army Reserves in Michigan when he was struck by lightning and, horribly burned both externally and internally, was rendered into what is termed an incomplete quadriplegic. In 2003 he began wheelchair sports and, last week, won a bronze medal in the shot put event.
RENE RENTERIA is an active-duty Marine – one of three members of the team who are still in the service – and the Wounded Warrior Battalion member starred in soccer. He said the four years he has been on active duty, combined with a fiercely-loyal family, gave him the resolve to earn a spot on the team.
STEVEN PEACE, a former Navy Lt. Commander and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, suffered a stroke that paralyzed the entire left side of his body but he competed as a road cyclist. (the afore-mentioned Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder, is also a Naval Academy graduate where he captained the swimming team.)
OZ SANCHEZ enlisted in the Marines, worked his way into Special Forces and was training as a SEAL when a motorcycle wreck left him paralyzed from the waist down. So during rehabilitation he switched to bicycles and just won a gold and a silver medal in London.
CHRISTOPHER CLEMENTS had served nine years in the Navy when tragedy struck in Afghanistan but he is now a long-jump champion. He won the 2012 field trials in the 100 meters as well.
KARI MILLER was an Army soldier when the car in which she was riding was hit by a drunk driver and she lost both legs. She turned to sports to motivate her through rehabilitation and her U.S. Sitting Volleyball Team just won a silver medal.
JOSHUA OLSON was a Sgt. 1st Class in Afghanistan when a rocket propelled grenade hit him during a patrol. After a year and a half at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md., Olson was assigned to the Army Marksmanship program and, in 2004, was the first athlete with a physical disability to be nominated to the Army’s World Class Athlete program. His forte in London was shooting and marksmanship.
CECE MAZYCK, a member of the 82nd Airborne, got tangled with another soldier during a high-altitude jump and landed wrong, resulting in her becoming an incomplete paraplegic. She throws the javelin, this after acknowledging her military career has taught her how “to adapt and overcome.”
ROB JONES, a retired Marine Sergeant, had both legs amputated after stepping on an IED in 2010 but, when he saw how strength combined with technique in rowing, he just won a bronze medal in the trunk-and-arms mixed doubles sculls.
JENNIFER SCHUBLE, as a West Point cadet, suffered a severe head injury during hand-to-hand combat training at the Military Academy and later her right arm was crushed in a severe car wreck. In 2004 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis but she won a silver and a bronze in para cycling in London last week.
WILL GROUIX, a Petty Officer in the Navy for six years, got involved in wheelchair rugby through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and was the team’s captain in London where they won a bronz medal.
ANGELA MADSEN suffered a severe back injury as an MP with the Marines and, in 1995, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., said to her, "Your physical condition is a waste of human life." Is that so? She just won the bronze medal in the shot put and – for the record --has since set six Guinness World Records, including becoming the first woman to row across the Indian Ocean and the first disabled person to row across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Yes, these people and more proudly walk among us and are our newest champions. But it isn’t medals that they want, nor our praise. Lt. Snyder, clutching his gold and also the world record, said succinctly, “I hope that my generation – the warriors coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq who are lying in bed missing a limb or whatever and they don’t know what’s next,” he told the Associated Press, “can see my story and say, ‘Hey, that’s for me. If he can do it, I can, too.’ ”