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Brad Snyder, Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, wins Paralympic gold medal in Tokyo

Brad Snyder before the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Brad Snyder before the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A navy veteran and Ph.D. student in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) has won Princeton’s second gold medal of the summer.

Team USA’s Brad Snyder, who had previously won five Paralympic gold medals in swimming, won gold in the men’s triathlon on Friday (ET). He is the first American man to win a gold medal in the event.

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The grueling event course included ¾ kilometers of swimming, 20 kilometers of biking, and 5 kilometers of running. It is the same course that the Olympic athletes competed on roughly one month ago. 

The 37-year-old Snyder ran a brisk 19:31 for the final 5 kilometers, holding off some of the younger competitors to secure his place at the top of the podium. The gold is Snyder’s eighth Paralympic medal overall.

Snyder’s path to Olympic triumph has been no easy task. Although Snyder was a successful swimmer in college — even captaining the team varsity team at the Naval Academy — his world was flipped upside-down when he tragically lost his vision in an IED explosion while serving as a lieutenant in Afghanistan in 2011.

“I had witnessed a number of other folks in similar situations, none of whom were in good shape afterwards. I thought well I didn’t make it, there is no way I did. So I laid there kind of reflecting on my life. In a way, I had kind of accepted that I was OK with my death, I was OK with dying. I was ready to pass on and do whatever you do after you die,” Snyder told towntopics.com.

Amazingly, Snyder came back just one year later at the London 2012 Olympics to win three medals — two of them gold — in various freestyle events in the pool. He won the 400m race on the one-year anniversary of the explosion. He went on to win three more golds and one silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics while also setting a Paralympic 100m freestyle record.

Snyder’s transition into the sport began just three years ago in 2018.  He credits his guide Greg Billington, a 2016 Olympian, in being instrumental in the transition. Proving his incredible athleticism, Snyder won two bronze medals in 2019 at two separate world championship events in Yokohama, Japan, and Banyoles, Spain, respectively. 

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The Floridian had planned to finish his career in Tokyo last summer after being accepted into the graduate program at SPIA in early 2020, but the pandemic delayed his training and his plans to retire from competition. Snyder was determined to compete at this year’s delayed games, so he and Billington moved to Hawaii to train. His excruciating daily regimen included training for all three disciplines — for instance, 2.5 miles of swimming, 25-30 miles of biking, and 8-12 miles of running.

The three-time Paralympian hopes to work at the Naval Academy once he completes his degree at Princeton, but this doesn’t mean he’s done racing yet. 

“If you had asked me in February of last year, I would have said Tokyo is going to be the last one,” he told Town Topics before the games. “I want to enjoy Tokyo and make the most of that moment, have the best race possible, and see how I feel when I come back.” 

Wilson Conn is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section. He can be reached at wconn@princeton.edu or on twitter at @wilson_conn.

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