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Former St. Petersburg swim star injured by bomb in Afghanistan

ST. PETERSBURG — Brad Snyder's eyes are sewn shut. Much of his face is covered in third-degree burns. His left eardrum is shattered.

Sedated with pain medication in his bed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the 27-year-old U.S. Navy lieutenant told his brother about the encounter with a makeshift bomb in early September and the last thing he saw in Afghanistan.

"He heard a click and he turned around and saw it explode," said Mitchell Snyder, 24.

Though he'll regain his looks when the scars heal, Brad Snyder's life will be completely different when he comes home, doctors at the Maryland military hospital told his family.

"For now, they've told us to just more or less accept the fact that he's blind," Mitchell Snyder said.

Two Afghan soldiers who were with Brad Snyder and stood closer to the explosive were killed. No one else from Snyder's bomb squad unit was hurt.

Snyder was already a sort of local hero when he left for the U.S. Naval Academy.

He was a star swimmer at Northeast High School who set records there. He was among the best long-distance swimmers at St. Petersburg Aquatics and St. Pete Masters swim clubs. He inspired his younger siblings to the sport, too.

"He was always there, and he trained hard and he got great grades," said Fred Lewis, head coach at St. Petersburg Aquatics. "He was the all-American kid."

Mitchell Snyder said his brother was inspired by their grandfather, a Navy veteran. He wanted to be a Navy Seal, but was assigned to the elite explosive ordnance disposal unit. They trained him to search out all kinds of bombs on land and sea.

It was his second tour, and Snyder told his family that he was looking forward to coming home for good early next year.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in naval architecture, and wanted to go back to college and learn to design buildings.

They knew he was last stationed in Kandahar. He couldn't tell his family much about his assignments, but told his brother he "switched places frequently."

Now he's coming home early, a wounded veteran, with new plans.

"He's very, very optimistic," Mitchell Snyder said. "He told me, 'There are many careers where I can still be successful.' "

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com

If you go

The St. Petersburg Aquatics and St. Pete Masters swim clubs are hosting a Wounded Warrior fundraiser for U.S. Navy Lt. Brad Snyder on Oct. 7 at First Friday in downtown St. Petersburg. All tips at the beer truck from 5:30-10:30 p.m. will go to Snyder and his family.

Former St. Petersburg swim star injured by bomb in Afghanistan 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 11:45pm]
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