Every sixth stroke

“You’re going to need surgery eventually.” Apparently, I’d torn my left labrum as I ferociously scooped and tossed five-gallon buckets of water away from my house as the rain fell in biblical proportions. It’s the only thing I could possibly have done to injure my shoulder. The orthopedic surgeon went on, “I recommend that you stop swimming, because the leveraged stress put on your shoulder when swimming is likely to further injure it.”

2012 Paralympic Games in London (sponsored by Deloitte!)

2012 Paralympic Games in London (sponsored by Deloitte!)

That was over two years ago. Instead of surgery I set out to give my body what it needed to heal by taking up hot yoga. Three hundred hours of hot yoga later, I got back in the pool this weekend. Ginger strokes turned to a single, smooth, confident—albeit slow—cadence after just a few laps; my breath found its pace effortlessly. Life under the surface of the water is calm, cool, and steady. Wrapped in the safety of the water, my mind explored the consciousness of my body, from my toes as they fluttered behind my slow crawling arms, to my now strong shoulders.


Paralympics logo in London, 2012

Paralympics logo at Olympic Stadium in London, 2012

As I swam, my thoughts drifted back to my trip to the 2012 Paralympics in London, where I watched elite swimmers torpedo through a pale blue pool. Some didn’t have arms, legs, or both; and some were blind. The story of one impressive swimmer had intrigued me. Former U.S. Navy officer Brad Snyder, who became fully blind after an incident with an IED in Afghanistan, won several gold and silver medals, and became the world record holder for the 400-meter and 100-meter freestyle events. He’s a sailfish with arms. I am a seahorse.

Since the games, I’ve had the honor of getting to know Brad while serving together to help military service people transition to the corporate world upon their returning to civilian life. Vignettes of these experiences flashed through my mind as my muscles regained familiarity with the water.


American flag hanging over the pool at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London

Every sixth stroke, I noticed the American flag hanging over the pool at the far end of the rafters, and something Brad said once came to the foreground of my memory. He talked about how one of the strange things about being a blind swimmer is that when the race is over, you don’t know if you’ve won until you hear the results. He recalled finishing a race and, unlike his sighted contemporaries who know with a glance at the scoreboard, had to wait until someone called out the name of the winner to know where he placed. I remember watching the races in London, thinking, “He won!” I knew it before he did.

This weekend, as I bumbled along in my lane, I saluted the flag hanging over the pool with a simple look to the rafters as I drew in the prana from just above the surface. My Paralympic gold-medal winning, world-record holding, war fighting, bomb diffusing friend who donned U.S. Navy stripes with pride, and who represented the United States on the world stage at the London Games … he couldn’t see the flag under which he served, and later competed. But he represented it as well as anyone ever has.

Today, I am thankful for role models and friends like Brad, who don’t have to see in order to dream, to triumph.

Brad, I  respect you. I am grateful for your selfless service; your positive, strong mind; and the fiery spirit with which you live this amazing life.


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