Warrior Games athletes reflect on their Chicago experience

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The 2017 Warrior Games are winding down in Chicago. The athletic tribute to America's wounded warriors wraps up Saturday.

The city has put its best foot forward for the games, and that will have a lasting impact on the athletes.

Friday's volleyball and basketball competitions served as a grand finale for the Warrior Games - the closing ceremonies will be held Saturday but are closed to the public - and moved to the United Center from Soldier Field.

The spirit in the United Center was electric.

"To see where it started and see where it's come, it's huge," said Randi Hobson, Army Staff Sergeant, of the first Warrior Games held outside a military base.

Ryan Shannon, a Warrior Games athlete from Coal City, is competing on the hallowed ground of sports legends Friday.

"I watched Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen, and Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. They are my heroes. And now I'm standing where they play. They created history, it's surreal," Shannon said.

Shannon did more than play, he helped his Navy squad take gold in seated volleyball on the same court Michael Jordan once played.

"I told my teammates I can die for good this time and be happy," he said.

"To be able to compete where we've competed this week is unimaginable," Hobson said.

In a short game of wheelchair basketball, it's them military athletes who show celebrities like Jon Stewart how it's done.

"Impressed is not a strong enough words," said Jeff Garlan, star of ABC's "The Goldbergs." "This is amazing."

Each one of the competitors brings a military title, and a story of unexpected, often career-ending injury.

"This last week taught me how to keep pushing toward recovery. Keep going forward," said Chris Deikie, Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Navy.

This is the path forward; filled with medals, teammates and friends.

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The Warrior Games moved from Soldier Field to the United Center for the basketball competition Friday.

When ABC7 Eyewitness News spoke with the athletes earlier in the day we had an important question for them: What has this Chicago experience meant to you?

This moment, this opportunity, this week - including for Team Army - is personally powerful.

"It probably has to be rank no. 1, right next to the birth of the kids. I love being around the soldiers. I love being around my battle buddies," Charles Hightower said, Team Army athlete.

And the athletes have loved seeing Chicago and the city's iconic landmarks.

"Soldier Field, Wrigley Stadium, and now the United Center. We've hit three of the same places in four days. That's crazy, that's absolutely wild. People try to do this in a lifetime and we did it in literally four days," said Christopher McGinnis, Team Army athlete.

The week has been about them.

"That's what I like to take away from this, the team camaraderie," said Ryan Mayor, Team Army athlete.

It's sharpened their focus.

"In the future, I want to be able to make it into the Paralympics," said Stephanie Morris, Team Army athlete.

And it's given them a reason to return home, with a message for their fellow military members.

"I will make sure they know that they got something to do, and there is always hope. And there is always something extra you can do," said Earl Ohlinger, Team Army athlete.

In the end, at least for Shannon, it's been quite the Chicago - and lifetime - experience.

"I don't know if it's going to hit me yet. I think tomorrow or the next day is when it's going to hit me, when I look back on it," he said.

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