Afghanistan Veteran Brad Snyder Becomes First U.S. Man to Win Gold in Paralympic or Olympic Triathlon

·3 min read
Brad Snyder
Brad Snyder

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Three-time Paralympian Brad Snyder won his sixth gold medal on Saturday in the men's para triathlon, becoming the first U.S. athlete to bring home a gold medal in the men's triathlon event at the Olympics or Paralympics.

At the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, the 37-year-old and his guide Greg Billington, a 2016 Olympian, dominated the race from start to finish, crossing the line at 1:01:16. Snyder brought home gold in the men's PTVI classification — for athletes with a visual impairment — just three years after switching events from his successful Paralympic swimming career.

Describing how "incredibly proud" he is of his and Billington's accomplishment, Snyder told Olympics.com: "We've been training together now for three weeks, getting ready for the Games and for every athlete who has been able to stand on top of the podium we've had another three or four who have been right there with us every step of the way. The most prideful moment for me on the podium yesterday was to hear my teammates calling to me and making them proud. So I'm really excited to be a gold medalist in this sport, but I know it's in large part due to my team."

Snyder previously competed in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, winning a total of seven medals for swimming in the 400m, 100m, and 50m freestyle races and the 100m backstroke.

"It's a big moment, obviously, because you spend so much time visualizing and hoping and preparing for it," Snyder told NBC Sports of his para triathlon victory. "Just like in Rio and just like in London, there's no way you can possibly imagine how good it's going to feel – and it was really a good feeling."

Brad Snyder
Brad Snyder

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A war veteran who lost his sight during a tour in Afghanistan, Snyder celebrates his para triathlon victory just as the unfolding chaos in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover resulted in the death of 13 U.S. service members.

Discussing the country's Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country, Snyder told CNN that though U.S. troops couldn't remain in Afghanistan "forever," he still feels "prevailing sadness" amid recent events.

"The mistakes of the last 20 years don't justify future investment in my view," he said. "We've quelled the violence for 20 years and stability has not prevailed ... removing yourself is incredibly challenging."

Brad Snyder
Brad Snyder

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Snyder said he has spent years trying to "make sense" of the war in Afghanistan and whether or not it was worth it, hoping to one day use his experience to help military leaders better prepare for future conflicts.

"It plagues me, it keeps me awake at night and I think about it a lot, especially being a person whose life was fundamentally changed by going to Afghanistan," he continued, noting that regardless, the sacrifices made overseas were all for the "notion of liberty, the notion of freedom" and "human rights."

Snyder is now a Ph.D. student at the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He hopes to return to the Naval Academy as a professor and in the meantime, continues competing as a para triathlon athlete.