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Navy veteran Bradley Snyder, left, who lost his sight during an Afghanistan blast in 2011, and Greg Billington ceberate after winning a gold medal in the Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.
Navy veteran Bradley Snyder, left, who lost his sight during an Afghanistan blast in 2011, and Greg Billington ceberate after winning a gold medal in the Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

TOKYO – A former Navy lieutenant who lost his eyesight after stepping on an improvised bomb in Afghanistan won a gold medal for Team USA in the Paralympic triathlon Saturday.

Bradley Snyder, 37, of Baltimore, Md., was working as an explosive ordnance disposal technician when he was wounded in September 2011.

The blast cost him the sight in both eyes, but the following year he won two swimming gold medals at the London Paralympics. He added another three gold medals in the pool at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

Team USA’s Bradley Snyder, left, and Greg Billington run in a Tokyo Paralympics triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Snyder is a Navy veteran who lost his sight from a blast in Afghanistan in 2011.
Team USA’s Bradley Snyder, left, and Greg Billington run in a Tokyo Paralympics triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Snyder is a Navy veteran who lost his sight from a blast in Afghanistan in 2011. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

The Tokyo race, at Odaiba Marine Park near the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge, was Snyder’s first Paralympic triathlon but he took the lead during the initial swim section and never gave it up.

“My life isn’t all about winning … it’s about challenges,” he told Stars and Stripes after crossing the finish line, waving the American flag and hearing supporters chant: “USA … USA.”

Visually impaired triathletes ran, swam and tandem biked with the aid of sighted teammates. Snyder’s guide was Greg Billington, an Olympic triathlete in Rio who once ran cross country for Lakenheath High School on a U.S. Air Force base in England.

Team USA’s Bradley Snyder, left, and Greg Billington ride a tandem bike on their way to Paralympic triathlon gold at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Snyder is a Navy veteran who lost his sight from a blast in Afghanistan in 2011.
Team USA’s Bradley Snyder, left, and Greg Billington ride a tandem bike on their way to Paralympic triathlon gold at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Snyder is a Navy veteran who lost his sight from a blast in Afghanistan in 2011. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

After donning his gold medal, Snyder reflected on recent events in Afghanistan, where 13 service members were killed in a suicide bombing at Kabul airport Thursday following the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

“It’s a difficult time for us right now but I think that what I’m trying to do in this sport is try to … just continue to stick to the mission and make progress,” he said.

What’s happening in the country is a tragic and sad situation, Snyder said.

Navy veteran Bradley Snyder, left, who lost his sight during an Afghanistan blast in 2011, and Greg Billington ceberate after winning a gold medal in the Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.
Navy veteran Bradley Snyder, left, who lost his sight during an Afghanistan blast in 2011, and Greg Billington ceberate after winning a gold medal in the Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

“I know what all my comrades were fighting for was liberty and democracy,” he said. “Afghanistan has taken a step backward, but it is my hope that Afghans will, one day, experience a higher level of liberty and democracy. I remain optimistic and I hope that my fellow service members do, too.”

Snyder was one of several veterans racing in Paralympic triathlons in the Japanese capital.

Former Marine captain Eric McElvenny, of Pittsburgh, lost his right leg to an improvised explosive device in 2011 while serving with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Former Marine captain Eric McElvenny competes in a Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. He lost his right leg to an improvised explosive device in 2011 while serving with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Former Marine captain Eric McElvenny competes in a Paralympic triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. He lost his right leg to an improvised explosive device in 2011 while serving with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

The country’s situation was in his thoughts “almost continually” ahead of his race, he said, after finishing in sixth place.

McElvenny filtered those thoughts from his mind during the race, which included amputee athletes, but afterwards he was thinking about “Marines who are in harm’s way” and their families, he said.

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