These 6 veterans won medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

Miguel Ortiz Avatar

The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics took place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 5, 2021. Team USA was represented at the games by 240 Paralympic athletes. Among them were 18 veterans and three active duty service members, many of whom took home medals at the Beijing, London and Rio Paralympics. For 2020, six of them won nine medals for the US.

Alfredo De Los Santos

De los Santos qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics (U.S. Paralympics Cycling)

Going by the nickname Freddie, De los Santos was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In 1986, he moved to New York to finish high school. He attended the City College of New York where he studied graphic design and went on to work at NYU. Following the attacks on 9/11, De los Santos joined the Army. On October 20, 2009, he was deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan where his vehicle was struck by an RPG. De los Santos was wounded in the attack and later lost his right leg above the knee. During his extensive rehabilitation period, he took up handcycling. He competed in the 2016 Rio Paralympics but earned his first medal (bronze) in Tokyo in the mixed team relay. De los Santos still has a passion for art and uses graphic design and abstract painting to illustrate his combat experience.

Ryan Pinney

(Left to right) Alicia Dana, Ryan Pinney, and Freddie De los Santos after winning bronze in Tokyo (Team USA)

Pinney was born and raised in Arizona. An avid cyclist, he graduated from Grand Canyon University with a BS in Sport Management. In 2000, Pinney enlisted in the Air Force and served as an inflight refueler. Over his 14 year career, he deployed to the Middle East over 10 times and flew over 100 combat missions. Shortly after returning from a tour in the Middle East, Pinney competed in a bicycle race where he was thrown over the handle bars of his bike. His spinal cord was injured and Pinney was medically retired from the Air Force as a Technical Sergeant. He was able to continue his passion for cycling with a gifted handbike from The Freewheel Foundation. Pinney joined the Air Force Wounded Warrior Team as well as the Paralyzed Veterans of America Racing Team. Tokyo was his first paralympics and he took home bronze in the mixed team relay.

Shawn Morelli

Morelli won Team USA’s first medal in Tokyo (Team USA)

Morelli is a Pennsylvania native who commissioned as an Army engineer officer through Marion Military Institute. During her Army career, she served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, she was wounded in Afghanistan. An explosion caused severe brain trauma, blindness in her left eye, and damaged her neck and spine. Her cycling career began with a trip to her local bike shop and was propelled by her exposure to competitive cycling at the 2010 Warrior Games. At the 2016 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships Morelli broke the women’s C4 pursuit world record. In Rio, she took home two gold medals (road time trial, track pursuit) and earned another gold (time trial) plus a silver (individual pursuit) medal in Tokyo.

Ray Hennagir

Hennagir talks with teammates during a scrimmage intermission (Team USA)

Hennagir joined the Marines in 2001 and served as a combat engineer. On June 16, 2007, in Zaidon, Iraq, he was wounded by an IED. This led to the amputation of both of Hennagir’s legs as well as four fingers on his left hand. While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, one of his recreational therapists encouraged him to try out wheelchair basketball. While he enjoyed the sport, it was wheelchair rugby that Hennagir really took after. Still a hard-charging devil dog, he preferred the physicality of wheelchair rugby and strove for the opportunity to compete at the highest level. He got that opportunity in Tokyo where he competed with Team USA’s wheelchair rugby team and helped to bring home silver.

Bradley Snyder

Snyder (left) with guide Greg Billington after winning Team USA’s first gold medal in Tokyo (Team USA)

Snyder was born in Nevada but grew up on the beach in Florida where he developed his ability as a swimmer. He went on to swim competitively in high school and at the U.S. Naval Academy where he captained the swim team from 2005-2006. He commissioned as a Naval Officer and completed the grueling 42-week Explosive Ordnance Disposal School. On Sept. 7, 2011, Snyder stepped on an IED in Kandahar. Although the resulting blast did not affect his limbs, Snyder was blinded and lost both of his eyes. A determined sailor and athlete, Snyder battled his disability and immediately began training for the Paralympics. Just one year after his injury, he competed in the London Paralympics and won silver in the men’s 50m free and gold in the 100m free and 400m free. He returned in Rio and won another silver medal (100m back) and three more gold medals (50m free, 100m free, 400m free). In 2018, Snyder transitioned to Paratriathlon. In Tokyo, he won the men’s PTVI race. He is the first U.S. man to win a Paralympic, or Olympic, medal in an individual event in triathlon.

Elizabeth Marks

Marks with her silver medal (50m free) in Tokyo (Team USA)

Marks comes from a family with a legacy of military service. In 2008, shortly after her 17th birthday, she joined the Army. While serving in Iraq as a combat medic, Marks sustained bilateral hip injuries. In 2012, nearly two years after her injury, she discovered her gift for competitive swimming during her recovery process. Six months later, Marks was declared fit for duty. More importantly, she was accepted into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. In 2014, Marks was in London for the inaugural Invictus Games when she became rapidly ill. She was placed on ECMO life support for respiratory failure. She continued to suffer from chronic regional pain syndrome, a result of her original injuries and her time on ECMO. Still, she took home bronze (4x100m medley relay) and gold (100m breaststroke) in Rio. In 2017, Marks underwent left below the knee amputation. Despite this, she continued to train and push herself to excel. Her hard work paid off in Tokyo where she won bronze (50m butterfly), silver (50m freestyle), and gold (100m back). She is an inductee in the Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame.

Feature Image: The 2020 Team USA Paralympic Team at the opening ceremony in Tokyo (Team USA)