Ryan Shannon was born in Joliet, Il on June 17th, 1987. He resided in Morris, Il for his entire life until he joined the United States Navy on December 17th, 2008. Prior to his enlistment he attended Morris Community High School where he was a member of the student government and played multiple sports to include track and field as well as cross-country. He still holds the school record for the 800-meter dash with a time of 1:57. His natural ability and drive in track led to his next journey into college at Aurora University where he was a member of the track and field team there. He completed just over a year there before a school shooting at Northern Illinois would change his path forever. He lost a friend in the school shooting and decided college wasn’t the right path for him which is when he joined the military.
Ryan enlisted on December 17th, 2008 and reported to Naval Station Great Lakes for basic training. He was meritoriously promoted from E2 to E3 upon graduation due to his drive and success while in basic training. Upon graduation he reported to Naval Submarine School in Groton Connecticut. There he received another year of training to prepare him for his job which was an Electronics Technician (Radioman) onboard submarines, specifically fast attack submarines. He completed his training and was ranked 3rd highest in his class which allowed him first pick on orders to his next duty station. He chose Pearl Harbor Hawaii for it’s beauty and rich Naval history. Ryan reported to the USS Pasadena (SSN 752) in February 2009 and began his journey to become qualified as a submariner. During his time onboard he deployed to the Western Pacific for 7 months and the submarine crew completed all missions vital to national tasking and interest flawlessly. Upon return to Pearl Harbor, the USS Pasadena was scheduled for an upkeep period of 2 years in Portsmouth New Hampshire and this is where Ryan’s story begins to change from normal military career to life changing injuries and psychological damage. The move to Portsmouth seemed normal for the first year and Ryan continued to succeed well above his peers. He was nominated as the USS Pasadena Junior Sailor of the Year and eventually won the title for both the USS Pasadena and for his Squadron COMSUBDEVRON 12. About a year into the shipyard period, the Pasadena’s sister ship the USS Miami was set on fire by a disgruntled shipyard worker. Ryan was a first responder to the fire and fought for 10 hours to put out the blaze. During the firefighting Ryan noticed a civilian firefighter become disoriented and eventually collapse due to smoke inhalation. Ryan pulled the firefighter away from the smoke and then picked up the firefighters dropped hose and started to combat the fire on his own until relieved by other crew members. Once the fire was out Ryan returned home where his wife Jasmine started to notice subtle changes in him. He became hypersensitive to heat and when a firetruck or siren would go off outside he became anxious and searched for potential fires. He couldn’t sleep normally and complained of nightmares where he was surrounded by fire or relived that night. He was later diagnosed with PTSD but continued to go to work normally and do his job. One year later the USS Pasadena left the shipyard and was transiting to its new homeport in San Diego California. On the transit Ryan was awoken by a fire alarm, the ship was conducting fire drills. Ryan woke up and rolled out of his bed to respond to the fire drill and as he was bent over putting his boots on, another sailor came out of his bunk positioned 2 bunks off the ground. The sailor landed with both feet to the back of Ryan’s neck and head causing Ryan’s head to bounce in between his legs. The blow caused 2 cracked vertebrae in Ryan’s neck and a Traumatic Brain Injury. The onboard Corpsman attempted to stabilize Ryan and wouldn’t allow him to sleep for 3 days for fear of brain swelling and bleeding, Ryan was eventually evacuated from the submarine to Florida where he spent a week at the VA hospital to reduce the brain swelling and stabilize his condition. Unfortunately, the damage was done, he suffered memory loss, constant headaches and damage to the muscles in his eyes. He was flown to San Diego to continue treatment but due to the medication required for treatment, he would never serve onboard a submarine again. Ryan was determined to continue his military career and moved back to Pearl Harbor for shore duty at COMSUBPAC. While there he would undergo his biggest test in life, one that was literally life and death. While on shore duty, Ryan broke his foot at the beach, it went undiagnosed for 3 months due to the inability to see the break on x-rays. By the time the break was confirmed by an MRI, irreparable damage had occurred. Ryan was left with partial paralysis of his left foot and ankle along with a rare condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The condition is severe nerve damage and basically makes his brain and body think that his foot is still broken to this day. Doctors informed him that he would not be able to run again and walking would be extremely painful for the rest of his life, there is no known cure for the condition. Given Ryan’s life before the Navy and his love of running this was devastating news. At the same time, due to all of his injuries, Ryan was on a pretty hefty number of pills to help alleviate and control the symptoms associated with his injuries. These pills would eventually go on to test Ryan’s resolve once again. One night after taking his medication, he started to become disoriented and cold, he told his wife Jasmine he was going to lay down. Once in bed he became extremely hot and nauseous, to the point where he thought he would be sick. He got out of bed and attempted to get to his bathroom, Jasmine noticed he was colliding with the walls and helped him to the toilet, she then went downstairs to get him some water. When she returned Ryan was unconscious on the floor and non-responsive. She immediately called the paramedics and started doing chest compressions, after roughly 15 seconds Ryan woke up and the paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital. They later found out that his medication had stopped his heart for just over 30 seconds and while at the hospital the same thing happened again. He was released the next day, rested up and prepared to get back to work. About a month later, he underwent surgery in implant a device in his spine called a spinal chord stimulator to help alleviate the pain from his foot injury. The surgery was successful but initiated the end of his naval career. He was no longer found fit-for-duty due to the implant and the potential complications that could be associated with it if he returned to sea. He retired on April 26th, 2016.
Turning Disability into Strength
Given his injuries and the doctors diagnoses of never being able to run again, Ryan was in a dark place. Depression crept up and there were points where living this way was not an option, he hit the darkest point in his life. He didn’t want to be this version of himself and contemplated taking his own life. Luckily, he married a hero, Jasmine decided that this was unacceptable and forced him to get off the couch and out of his head. Because of her help, Ryan chose to go for a walk one day. While listening to his headphones on his walk, he decided that he wouldn’t just accept the doctor’s diagnosis of never being able to run again. He started to go for more walks, then he started to figure out how to jog again, eventually going for little runs here and there. It was excruciating and long work, but he started running, he proved doctors wrong. During this recovery, he was introduced to the Navy Safe Harbor program, they help wounded, injured, and ill service members with adaptive sports, counseling and transition assistance. He set his eyes on competing again, the Navy Safe Harbor program told him about a competition held every year called the Wounded Warrior Games. The games put injured service members from all the branches of service against each other in a Paralympic style sporting competition. Ryan set his sights on making the Navy team. He trained for a year and competed at the Navy Trials held in Pearl Harbor in 2015, he received the call 2 months later that he would be competing at the games held at West Point Academy in New York. He would compete in track, swimming and seated volleyball. The games came and that week is one that changed to word disability for Ryan. He won 4 medals in total, 2 Gold and 2 Silver. 3 of those medals were in track where he set 2 warrior games records and the 4th was in the swimming relay. The good news didn’t stop there, Ryan fell in love with the sport of seated volleyball and due to his performance at the games he was approached by the USA Volleyball association to come be a part of the national Paralympic team in their developmental program. He is still training with them and fighting for a spot on the national team’s roster for the 2020 Paralympics. After the games he continued his training and was selected for a second time to represent Team Navy at the Warrior Games in Chicago in 2017. He would be selected as the captain of the sitting volleyball team and led them to an undefeated performance and a Gold medal in his hometown city of Chicago! His story doesn’t stop there though, given his performance at the Warrior Games, he was selected to compete on a bigger stage, the world stage in Prince Harry’s Invictus Games as part of Team USA. The Invictus Games is like the Warrior Games except on the national level, 17 nations participated with over 550 athletes in 12 sports. Ryan went on to wear his countries uniform again and accomplished all goals, surpassing his own expectations. He took silver in the 400-meter dash and a bronze in the seated volleyball competitions. Ryan now went from being a disabled veteran to an international athlete in less than 4 years. His perseverance and devotion has led him to turn his disability into strength. He credits his devotion to his wife and especially his kids. His goal is to be a role model for them when they experience adversity and to show them they can overcome anything thrown at them.
Ryan received help from many people and organizations along this path. That led him to want to reach out and help his brothers and sisters as well. He looked back at how he was able to overcome the odds stacked against him and realized that music motivated him to get off the couch and relearn to run, music is a huge part of his training, and he realized he could use music to alter his mood when he was feeling down. This led to him forming a foundation called the MusicRx Foundation, the goals of the foundation are to utilize music therapy to help veterans, first-responders, and active duty service members. They do this by offering free music instruments, music lessons and music related events to people who qualify for the program. The foundation is in its infancy but the progress so far has been extremely promising. Ryan views this as his next chapter and continues to work tirelessly now to ensure its success.