Paralympian Swimmer Brad Snyder Talks About His Guide Dog Gizzy: 'She Really Does Care About Me'


Paralympian swimmer Brad Snyder has a very special "best friend" by his side as he heads to this year's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – his guide dog Gizzy.

The war veteran, who lost his sight during a tour in Afghanistan, gushed about Gizzy to PEOPLE at the USA Media Summit in March. He sang the praises of the 75-lb. German Shepherd, calling her a "diva" and a "princess."

"She's incredibly smart. She gets me from one place to the other," Snyder said. "She waits on the side of the pool at [Loyola University] where I do my training and then, when she gets done, she guides me back home."

He added: "She's an amazing dog with a lot of personality … She doesn't speak but she's got a lot of spunk and a lot of sass. If I don't want to play with her she'll lay down with a sigh like, 'Ugh, you're so lame!' "

Snyder won a gold medal at the 2012 London Paralympics one year after losing his sight from stepping on an IED explosion while trying to save two men. He told The Florida Times Union in April that he plans to "win as many gold medals as possible" at this year's Games.

But Gizzy isn't always thrilled with his training.

"She doesn't like when I get up on the [pool] blocks to start … She'll start blocking me from getting on the blocks," the athlete told PEOPLE. "She hardly ever barks. It's only when somebody knocks on the door or when I hop up on the blocks.

"She's fearing for my safety. She's like, 'That doesn't look safe. Why are you doing that?' She gets very guarding of me. She wants to make sure I'm okay … She puts herself between me and the hazard, like, if there's an aggressive dog at the dog park."

Snyder doesn't mind her protective nature, though. "She really does care about me," he said.

Along with singing the praises of Izzy, Snyder also spoke highly of employee benefits and insurance company The Hartford, for whom he is an ambassador.

"The Hartford is great about giving us the opportunity to share the essence of the Paralympic movement, which, to me, is the idea of redefining what a disability means, not only to me, but to the community as well," he told PEOPLE.

In a study conducted by the company, 42 percent of respondents said they believed people with physical disabilities are unable to perform most jobs done by able-bodied individuals, become physically fit, be as productive as able-bodied people or become world-class athletes.

These misconceptions are what Snyder and The Hartford hope to change.

"We are trying to represent the idea of how capable a person with a disability can be and how valuable we can be in the community," he said. "And while we do have special needs and accommodations, if you give me an opportunity, I will succeed for you."

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will kick off on Aug. 5.

September 16, 2016
PEOPLE by: Char Adams