Community Spotlight: Father's Day with Brad Snyder
Happy Father’s Day 2022! Welcome Rooney Mae!
When most of us think of Brad Snyder, we think of the unstoppable, gold medal winning, world record breaking Paralympian. When I was fortunate enough to catch up with Brad recently, I saw a new side of him. Let me introduce you to Bradley Snyder, the adoring, devoted, baby rocking, diaper changing, brand new Dad.
We’ve always felt honored to have Brad as our Eone brand Ambassador. Brad was a naval officer who was blinded in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He then stunned the world, achieving unparalleled success at three consecutive Paralympics, in swimming and more recently, triathlon. Brad shows us that a disability is not limiting, but social perceptions and environmental factors create barriers to individuals with disabilities, and this places limits on what can be achieved. Brad’s journey has repeatedly proved what’s possible when these barriers can be removed. We were excited to find out what was next in that incredible journey.
From pool to parenthood
Since his extraordinary performance in Tokyo, Brad and his wife Sara have welcomed their first child, Rooney Mae into their family. With this beautiful new addition, life now looks a little different! But first, let’s rewind to when Brad and Sara found out they were expecting.
“When we found out we were pregnant, we had to stay mum about it for the first thirteen weeks – which included Tokyo. So, I was keeping it to myself throughout, but obviously I was just beaming about it the whole time. Also, I knew I had to win because one day Baby Rooney’s going to watch that video!”
Two days after returning from Tokyo, gold medal in tow, Brad made a speedy transition into academia. He began work on his PhD at Princeton University. Now, months later, as he prepares for the final stretch in his studies, Brad finds himself faced with a whole new world of learning. This is the kind of learning no amount of training or studying can prepare you for – learning to be a parent.
Welcoming “Baby Rooney”
Rooney Mae, or “Baby Rooney” as Brad affectionately calls her, is now three months old. With a hint of not quite believing it’s true and a whole lot of love in his voice, Brad tells me “The journey of bringing a child into the world is an absolutely incredible one.”
Like most new parents, Brad and Sara had a lot of questions, and have been figuring it all out together.
“When she first came, there’s so much adjustment, there’s so much to figure out. How do we meet her needs? How do we understand what she’s saying? How do we balance everything? How do we find a rhythm and get onto some kind of schedule? I think now, we’ve figured some of it out.”
Sometimes, it’s Sara distracting a reluctant Rooney at the top of the changing mat, while Brad changes her diaper. Sometimes, it’s trying to maintain a balance between caring for the baby and caring for the grown-ups. The couple have quickly realized teamwork and balance are key to the parenting journey.
“We do a lot together, but I try to take on as much as I can in the morning so my wife can work out or have some time to herself. We’re doing our best in terms of creating enough space for each other, so we can do what we need to.”
Brad is a hands-on Dad, thrilled to be involved in every part of Baby Rooney’s development. He talks expertly about everything from diapers to baby carriers. But when it comes to the challenges of parenting, it seems for Brad, the biggest challenge is when he is not with Rooney.
“Most of my stress comes not from her, but my desire to drop everything and just be with her all the time. She’s always doing something cool and interesting, and I don’t want to miss it. And when she isn’t doing something cool and interesting, she’s upset, and I want to be there.”
Parenting without sight presents a unique set of challenges and Brad’s taking it all in his stride.
“I can’t see if she’s spit up, so I use my hands to feel her clothes. Or if she’s quiet in the rocker, I don’t know if she’s fallen asleep and she might be slumped over, so I’ll just move her.”
As navigating with a cane or dog is not particularly compatible with pushing a stroller, Brad’s also been learning the art of the baby carrier, so he can carry Rooney on his chest as he takes her from one place to another.
“There are things that would be easier if I could see her, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of working around most of those things. That’s a bit like blindness across the board, it might be easier if you can see, but you can always find a way.”
On the future
Brad is curious about Rooney’s future, but he seems much more interested in savoring the present and enjoying each little moment.
“I can’t wait for her to start doing certain things but then I’ll be sad when she is no longer so small that she fits on my shoulder. I’m trying to mitigate expectation and just observe, support and be excited about every little thing she does now.”
On his own future, Brad is also not looking ahead too far. He is adjusting to parenthood and thoroughly enjoying this time with his wonderful wife and beautiful baby. For now, that is how he intends to spend his time and energy.
“We’re making the most of the moment. I don’t want to fill my head or my time with anything other than really being present. Eventually, my wife will come off maternity leave, we’ll arrange childcare, and our life will shift. That bandwidth will come back and at that point, we can start figuring out what’s long term.”
A 9-5 Fantasy
From the time he stunned the world with his performance at the London Paralympics in 2012, just one year after he lost his vision, Brad has been in the public eye. He has inspired, advocated and pushed himself beyond imaginable limits. But quietly, Brad has been harboring a dream of his own, one that might surprise you.
“I travel a lot, and I get to do cool things and meet interesting people. But I have this dream of having a 9-5, and at least sometimes, I’d like to come home at 5’o’clock, pick up Rooney and make dinner. That’s the rhythm I want, and I think that would be the best way for me to be a good dad.”
Some might think it would be an amazing opportunity for Rooney to grow up seeing Brad continue to do all the things he’s been doing as a Paralympian and a public figure. Brad agrees that it might be great, but he also believes that Rooney would have her own priorities.
“She won’t care about any of that for probably ten years. Meanwhile, she’ll care about, “Was my dad at my ballet recital? Does my dad do crafts with me?” So, I don’t want to shortchange the crafts and the ballet for, well… Dad was on TV.”
Be a squeaky wheel
We went on to talk a little about how becoming a parent has affected Brad’s views on accessibility and inclusion, he told me how it had solidified the importance of advocating for others.
“I often don’t like to be the squeaky wheel for myself,” he explained,” I can find a band aid solution or workaround. Or I can even straight up avoid something if it’s not accessible.”
However, as Brad became a Paralympian and public figure, he increasingly recognized that he needed to use his platform to advocate for other people. Now his platform is also one of a parent, and more than ever, he is reminded of the importance of advocacy.
People who are visually impaired or blind are used to finding workarounds when the environment is not accessible. Many are also used to taking a certain level of risk in those situations too. Brad’s family successfully advocated for an audible crossing signal to be installed in their community. Brad describes what this means to him. “For me, I’m OK with taking some risks, getting from point A to point B. But now that I’m taking care of her [Rooney], I have to do it the safe way. And sometimes, that requires me to write that letter or be a squeaky wheel.”
The notion of possibilities
When Brad first lost his vision, he found that society had an overwhelmingly negative view of blindness. People were concerned about how he could do things and what his life would be like. Something Brad has always loved about the Eone brand, is that it carries with it, a notion of possibilities. This provides a contrast to the typically negative connotations associated with a difference in ability. At the heart of our brand is inclusion and finding a way to create a design that is both beautiful and accessible. Because like Brad, we believe in finding a way to make things possible.
Brad told me how becoming a parent has reinforced the notion of possibilities in his mind.
“When I was first blind there were two things that scared me. The first was getting through an airport and getting on a plane. I thought ‘There’s no way a blind person can do that!’ But in the last ten years I have flown all around the world. Then I also remember, when I was first blind, a friend of mine visited. Ivan Castro, a wounded Army fellow, a really great, inspirational guy. He was telling me that he had just had a baby girl. In my mind, I was thinking ‘how does a blind guy change a diaper?!’ So, I had these two pinnacle blind challenges laid out for myself and I’ve been able to dominate both. I can absolutely get through an airport, and I can absolutely change a poopy diaper! I’m really proud of that!”
As Brad changes diapers and leans into fatherhood, he’s conquering one of his greatest personal challenges. Like many moments in Brad’s journey, the past few months serve to remind us that there’s nothing we can’t do, even though we may need to do it a little differently. For Brad, it means, “I’ll look to the future as one of possibilities as opposed to all these things, I’ll never be able to do.”
The water is a big part of Brad’s life. Growing up in Florida, spending his childhood around water, he learned to swim at a young age and as we all know, his love of swimming never left him. His voice lights up with excitement as he told me about his very own water baby.
“It’s so gratifying that Rooney loves the bath. She loves getting in and the second you start pouring water on her, she’s really happy. Even if she’s crying, the second she’s in that bathtub, she’s happy! Knowing that she really likes the water is really exciting for me and I really look forward to nurturing that curiosity about being in the water with her.”
With his membership at the community pool at the ready, Brad is so excited about taking Baby Rooney swimming. Meanwhile, I find myself wondering if it’ll be nursery rhymes and gentle splashing, or if Baby Rooney will be straight into the 200m Freestyle!
To Bradley, and to all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day! And remember, the future is one of possibilities.