Five-time Paralympic gold medalist Brad Snyder will compete in Sunday’s 2-mile open water Alcatraz Swim For Sight event to raise funds and awareness for visual impairments.
Snyder, who competes in the Paralympic S11 category for athletes with visual impairments, is coming off of three golds and a silver in the pool in Rio, and will now turn his focus to fighting both the currents of the open ocean and the issues of curable and incurable blindness.
“The whole idea is to raise awareness of visual impairments,” Snyder said, “when something like 10 million Americans are affected by incurable diseases.
“While my blindness isn’t curable, I can speak to the struggles visually impaired people face.”
Snyder lost his eyesight from an IED explosion in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Navy in 2011. Prior to that, he was a swim team captain at the Naval Academy, and after the explosion in 2011, he became one of Team USA’s top Paralympic swimming threats, winning 2 golds and a silver in London, then his 3 gold, 1 silver haul in Rio that earned him the USOC’s Male Athlete of the Paralympics award.
In the pool, visually impaired athletes swim with the assistance of a “tapper,” who reaches out with a long pole to tap the swimmer as he or she approaches the wall and needs to perform a turn or a finish. But in open water, the game changes entirely.
“It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” Snyder said of his open water gameplan. Open water swimming for athletes with visual impairments is still growing and evolving, but one typical method in triathlons is to tether the athlete to a guide. Snyder will pair with a local guide from the FINIS Swim Shop, swimming on a roughly-three-foot tether across the two-mile stretch of ocean.
In accordance with triathlon rules, Snyder says the pair will aim to swim side-by-side, as triathlon standards disallow drafting or swimming single-file. And Snyder says the adherence to triathlon-style rules has a very specific purpose for his future career: the multi-time Warrior Games gold medalist in track & field plans to add triathlon to his event lineup in future years.
“I’m hoping to build a platform for the next time around,” he said.
“These are the kinds of events I’ve had to turn down for the past 3 years as I really wanted to tailor my focus to the pool. But when they invited me this year, I jumped at the chance.”
Snyder says he plans to include more open water and triathlon events in his 2017 schedule, which he’ll set up later on this year.
“I believe in always keeping something on the horizon to strive for.”
This Sunday morning, it’ll be the San Francisco skyline on the horizon, beckoning Snyder in his swim across the water from the famous island prison of Alcatraz.
You can get more details on the swim and/or donate to the cause on the Alcatraz Swim For Sight page here.