Coal City resident and U.S. Navy veteran Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Shannon will compete next weekend in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will be held in various Chicago arenas from June 30 to July 8.
Athletes in the competition are wounded, ill or injured servicemen and women from every branch of the service.
Shannon will compete in sitting volleyball, swimming and track. Injured three times during his service, he made up his mind he would do his best to fight and push forward with his life.
“Sports have always been a part of my life,” he said. “The Warrior Games are all about the ability to rise. ... There will be 256 athletes who will be in Chicago, and every one of them has been told they can’t do things. Now they’ve accepted what’s happened to them and decided not to let that be the deciding factor in how they live their lives.”
Shannon developed post-traumatic stress disorder from fighting a fire on the nuclear submarine USS Miami when it was dry docked in New Hampshire.
One of the first at the scene, he took charge of the firefight on the vessel’s port side.
The fire was enormous and ravaged the sub, with heat so intense the military and civilian crews trying to put it out could only spend 30 seconds at the front, then would retreat for a couple of minutes to cool off.
“For 10½ hours, we fought that fire,” Shannon said. “It was chaos. My uniform was melting to my legs, and my boots were melting to the surface. ... We pulled people out of there we thought were dead.”
Shannon was a hero at the disaster, but shortly after, PTSD began affecting him. He continued his job, however, and was soon back on the sub.
On a run from New Hampshire to San Diego, Shannon’s next injury took only a second to occur.
While deep undersea on a mission in the USS Pasadena fast attack nuclear submarine, the crew was awakended by the siren of a fire drill.
When Shannon rolled out of his bottom bunk and doubled over to pull on his boots, he felt a sudden pain when the sailor in the top bunk, perhaps disoriented by being awakended in the middle of the night by the loud drill, jumped down on top of him.
“It snapped my head down,” he said, “and cracked two neck vertebrae. I had to get medically evacuated off the submarine.”
For the next two months, Shannon had excruciating headaches when he opened his eyes. He wore sunglasses even indoors. He also had quite a bit of memory loss and couldn’t even remember the birth of his sons.
“Even now,” he said, “I write everything down. If I watch a movie one night, I won’t remember the next day.”
The injury took two years of several types of intensive rehabilitation, involving therapists who helped his speech, eye muscles and brain injury. He still suffers from the damage.
His third injury occurred when he suffered a foot injury in Hawaii. Shannon describes it as the nail in the coffin that sent him on a downward spiral of narcotic pain relievers, depression and thoughts of suicide.
The broken bones in his left foot turned into complex regional pain syndrome. The pain and muscle atrophy keeps him physically inactive to this day. He is considering the recommendation of amputation.
“It’s rough,” he said.
He is especially disappointed that he is not able to coach his young boys in their sports. He knows how important sports are to many children.
Shannon grew up in Morris, loving sports and academics and excelling in both.
He’s pretty sure he still holds the MCHS track record for the 800 meters. He also was the mascot for the Redskins his junior year. He graduated in 2005, then attended Aurora University where he majored in secondary education and ran track.
He competed in his first Warrior Games last year, where he set records in track. That, after he was told by physicians he would never be able to run again.
“I decided not to believe it,” he said with a smile.
Shannon hopes the message of the Warrior Games will be understood to others going through similar trials.
“I’ve seen guys lose two legs and an arm,” he said, “and get into a pool and swim. Find something that makes you happy. I’m in a better place now than I have been in years.”
For information on the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games, visit www.dodwarriorgames.com.
Opening night at Soldier Field, with host Jon Stewart and musicians Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson, is July 1. Tickets may be bought through Ticketmaster.
All of the other games, June 30 to July 8, are free to attend.