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Bears rookie Shelley forms bond with teen

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Tim Bannon visited Halas Hall to watch the Bears practice on Monday.

Bannon, a suburban Chicago high schooler who was born without arms, became a viral sensation last month when a video was posted of him jumping onto a box. It wasn’t just his newfound celebrity that welcomed him to the practice facility. It was also his friend on the team.

Rookie cornerback Duke Shelley met Bannon at Shriners Hospital for Children in June, long before local media networks were covering Bannon’s athletic exploits, including completing the Chicago Triathlon this past weekend. 

Shelley said that he felt drawn to Bannon immediately. They spotted each other in the crowd and paired off.

“I couldn’t put a finger on it,” said Shelley. “We just broke up, and then everybody kinda dispersed. I see him. He sees me. We made eye contact, and we just went at it. I can’t really tell you what it was or why we gravitated toward each other, but we just did.”

The two exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch. Bannon texted Shelley this weekend to let him know that he’d completed the triathlon. Shelley was all smiles when he met Bannon and his family Monday after practice.

“Tim’s more famous than me,” said Shelley, before turning to Bannon, “I’ve got to hang out with you.”

“Yeah, then you’ll get all the girls,” said Bannon.

Shelley told Bannon about being drafted by the Bears in the fifth round and how he learned to handle strangers recognizing him.

Shelley is used to being a role model. As the second of five children and the first in his family to go to college, he has long been conscious of the example that he’s setting. Shelley stresses, however, that this goes both ways in his relationship with Bannon.

“I see the joy that he brings,” said Shelley. “How he attacks every day is just an awesome thing. Being in the position I am now, just being able to be somebody that he can look up to, that’s just great.”

While Bannon roots for the Bears, he calls the Seahawks his favorite team for reasons no one in Chicago could hold against him. Linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who lost his left hand as an infant, has been a source of inspiration for the high schooler.

“First ever guy to ever play that’s limb different,” said Bannon. “I was like if he can do it, so can I.”

While Tim Bannon might have split loyalties, his mother, Linda, has been a lifelong diehard fan of the Bears. Linda also has Holt-Oram Syndrome, the genetic condition that caused both mother and son to be born without arms. She was excited for her son to strengthen his ties with her favorite team.

“He’s had some really tough times through his life,” said Linda, “from infancy on. Without experiences like this, all his life would just be the hardships, the surgeries and hospital stays. So something like this, it’s just life to the extremes.”

Bannon has been practicing kicking, with the hope to take that spot at Proviso West High School eventually. So far, his track record on athletic goals is pretty strong.

In addition to reconnecting with Shelley, the Bannons were introduced to coach Matt Nagy, who spoke of the inspiration he draws from Tim. 

“You pull back,” said Nagy, “and we get so caught up so many times in life of what’s so important, but pretty cool just to see different stories from different people and what they go through and how the things we tend to worry about sometimes are a little bit blown out of proportion versus life skills and life challenges.”

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