US soldier blinded in Afghanistan wins gold in London Paralympics
LONDON — US swimmer Bradley Snyder on Friday won gold in the men’s S11 100m freestyle at the London Paralympics — a year after losing his sight when an improvised explosive device exploded in his face in Afghanistan.
The 28-year-old former US Navy lieutenant won the race in 57.43secs, with clear water between him and second-placed finisher Yang Bozun of China and Hendri Herbst Hendri of South Africa in third.
Snyder was on a tour of duty as a bomb disposal specialist when on September 7 last year a home-made bomb detonated and blinded him.
The bloody legacy of nearly a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have led to a number of wounded former service personnel taking up para-sport.
In the US team, more than 20 of the 227 athletes are veterans, while Britain’s team includes Jon-Allen Butterworth, a former Royal Air Force weapons technician who lost an arm in a rocket attack in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2007.
Butterworth, 26, on Friday won silver in the C4/5 1km time-trial.
British former soldier Derek Derenalagi, who lost his legs when the army Land Rover he was travelling in hit a landmine in Afghanistan in the same year, meanwhile, competes in the men’s F57 discus final.
Medics officially pronounced the Fiji-born squaddie dead and placed him in a body bag until a faint pulse was found and he was air-lifted to Britain, where he battled back to health helped by a British military rehabilitation programme.
Top US military officer General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is head of President Barack Obama’s delegation to the Games in the British capital.
Through programmes like the US Wounded Warrior Project and Britain’s Battle Back, there are increasing signs of the role sport can play to help injured veterans.
“(Sport) is such a great tool so that people can get back in the swing of life, feel useful, feel productive and continue building on that team spirit that they learn in the military,” said Obama’s disability policy advisor Kareem Dale.
“It’s just a great way for people to rehab and to get back into the swing of life,” he added in a recent US Department of Defence statement.
Sneyder won all five events at the US Paralympic swimming trials and set a new world best for visually impaired athletes in the 100m and 400m freestyle, prompting high praise from US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.
The swimmer, who has entered seven races at the Games, said that competing had given him back his self-confidence and after the race said he was proud to represent his injured comrades.
“It’s really an honour, it’s really a privilege. The motto here is ‘inspire a generation’. I suppose my generation is the wounded warriors,” he told reporters.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was laying in the hospital bed. I know what they’re going through. I know it’s a tough blow, to have something removed from you, some kind of capability diminishment, and also to be taken out of the fight.
“Hopefully, my presence here, representing the flag in a different manner, can provide some inspiration to those guys so they can get out.
“It doesn’t have to be sport but just get out of bed, get back into life and get through the barriers that have been presented to them.”
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