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Local champion trains for 2016 Paralympics in Rio

BALTIMORE (WBFF) - For one United States Naval Academy graduate, September 7 is the best and worst day of his life. It's his "Alive Day."

Brad Snyder was serving in Afghanistan when an IED exploded in front of him.

"The blast came out of the ground and basically hit me on the face which knocked me backwards," Snyder describes. "I remember waking up on the ground in the fetal position actually was able to still see out of my left eye and could see my hands and my legs and thought that I had died."

The blast took Snyder's vision.

"I laid there in what seemed to me to be a very long time a long enough time that I had very deliberate thoughts about everything. I thought, 'I have died and now I'm moving on' and I thought about my entire life. I've thought about what I've done. I can leave the Earth and be happy with what I've done in my 28 years here. And I was just waiting for whatever comes next. After contemplating all those things I realized I'm not dead. I'm actually still alive."

His injuries were severe.

"My face was basically filleted opened at every possible angle," Snyder describes. "I had scars that ran across the entire gamut of my facethis eye was nearly completely destroyed. This eye was substantially lacerated. I did not look like a normal human being when I came off the battlefield."

But then the soldier who used to give out lifesaver candies to Afghan children met his own real life lifesaver, the trauma surgeon.

"She put it all back together and allowed me to make the quick recovery that I did and nearly a full recovery," Snyder says. "The only thing that I came away from that blast that was irreparable was my retinas on both sides."

Snyder was taken into intensive care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. When he came back home he was determined to move forward. He found his coach, Brian, and a new best friend --- his guide dog, Gizzy. With that determination, Snyder earned a spot on the US Paralympic National Team after only a few months of training.

Today Snyder continues to push his limits and is focused on training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. At the Serene Loyola University in Baltimore, Snyder and his coach train six days a week. It's hard work that pays off --- Snyder brought home 2 gold medals and a silver when he competed in London in 2012.

"When a blind swimmer finishes, I have no idea what happened," Synder explains. "I can't see the scoreboard, so for about a minute or so in sitting in a pool just like this with a cheering crowd who all knows the exact result-they all know that I won but I don't, so in just sitting down there all by myself thinking what could have happened? Maybe it wasn't good enough. Maybe I got out touched."

He adds, "It was Brian's voice that leaned over at the end of the race and said, 'you won'."

Today Snyder says the American Flag represents his country both in the pool and on the battlefield.

"The medal around my neck didn't represent what I had done as an individual, it represented everything that we as a community had accomplished-from all of those people who had supported me and loved me and got me from one place to another, propped me up or picked me up when I was down or got me to practice or pushed me harder than I thought I could go," Snyder says. "All of those people are represented on that flag or in the medals --- that's what the flag means to me."

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