Olympians, Paralympians Get White House Welcome
By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2012 Brad Snyder, a triple medalist in swimming in the recently concluded 2012 Paralympic Games, was here today, along with most of the other Paralympians and Olympians who represented the United States in London, to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Paralympic swimmer Brad Snyder, Olympic fencer Mariel Zagunis, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the White House, Sept. 14, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Desiree N. Palacios
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A Navy lieutenant who earned his commission at the U.S. Naval Academy, Snyder was injured in 2011 by an improvised explosive device. The injury left him blinded. But that didn't stop Snyder from medaling at the Warrior Games in May. And it didn't stop him from earning two gold medals and a silver swimming in London during the Paralympic Games.
Snyder was also honored to carry the American flag during the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. Both he and flag bearer Mariel Zagunis, the Olympic fencer who carried the flag in during the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in London, brought that flag back home to the White House and presented it to Obama.
"I was thinking about it in retrospect," Snyder said. "The toughest aspect of my recovery over the last year was the idea that my service was taken away from me. To be able to throw on this new uniform, represent Team USA, and get back out there and continue to serve and ... get back in the fight, was amazing for my family ... I'm really glad to be the one to represent Team USA to bring that flag home to you, our president. It's really a privilege."
The United States sent 530 athletes to the Summer Olympics in London, and another 216 to the Paralympics. Many of those athletes were at the White House today standing behind Obama to hear him pass on to them the gratitude of Americans, and to convey to them his pride and the pride of all Americans.
"What you guys did is inspire us," Obama said. "You made us proud. As president, you made me especially proud to see how you conduct yourself on a world stage. You could not have been better ambassadors and better representatives for the United States and what we stand for."
The president said that watching the Olympics and Paralympics and seeing who America sends to the games allows the citizens of other nations to see the diversity of the United States.
"One of the great things about watching our Olympics is [you] are a portrait of what this country is all about," he said. "People from every walk of life, every background, every faith; it sends a message to the world about what makes America special. It speaks to the character of this group, how you guys carried yourselves. And it's even more impressive when you think about the obstacles that many of you have overcome."
The president said he recently visited the Olympic training facility in Colorado and witnessed athletes there preparing for both the next winter and summer Olympic Games. He said that it impressed upon him the effort that goes into preparing for the competition.
"It was just amazing to see not only how hard people were training, but also to hear how much you guys get to eat," Obama said, getting laughs from the crowd. "I hope that all of you guys get some well-deserved time off over the next few months. But I know that pretty soon many of you will be back in the gym or on the track or in the pool, thinking about Rio, because the Olympics is not just about what happens on the big stage in front of the cameras when the world is watching; it's about what happens when nobody is watching. And that's what really counts."
Before leaving the podium, to shake the hands with every athlete who attended the ceremony -- an effort the president acknowledged would make him late for his next engagement -- he thanked the athletes for what they had done.
"So thank you for being such great role models, especially for our young people. We could not be prouder of you," he said. "You gave us a summer we will never forget."