(NewsNation) — It’s a game of strategy and brainpower, and Griffin McConnell started playing it when he was 4 years old. The 17-year-old from Golden, Colorado, is now a national chess master — just one year after undergoing his fourth brain surgery.
Griffin’s medical journey has included intense procedures to help treat severe seizures and a disease that disconnected the left side of his brain. Through many uncertainties, Griffin’s love for the game remained.
The teen had to relearn how to walk, talk and speak. And of course, to play chess again.
“It’s been a hard process of learning how to walk, learning how to talk, and also learning how to redo chess. And that takes a lot of learning and a lot of patience to do all of that again,” Griffin said Sunday on “NewsNation Prime.”
“Chess for me is just so complicated. Like everything, it feels like it’s a new game, new territory, every single time. And for me, it’s just a way of kind of using my thinking skills, and try to put a task, if you will, on finding what is the best way possible in every single game.”
Griffin’s father, Kevin McConnell, taught his son to play chess. He said the game meant even more to his family after Griffin became sick.
“It was a huge fun thing at first, but then when Griffin got sick, it became a lot more,” Kevin McConnell said. “Even the doctors at Children’s Hospital said that they felt chess played … a bit of a role in Griffin, relearning functions in the other hemisphere now that he didn’t have the use of his left hemisphere.”
“It’s been a long road, especially with his most recent brain surgery last year. We were out of the woods for a couple of years after the brain surgeries between 7 and 8. And the seizures came back and they have a major brain surgery last year. And we let that be Griffin’s choice because he was old enough to make it. And he wanted to move forward with that, because he wasn’t getting any better at chess. The seizures were definitely affecting him.
“What’s interesting is after the surgery, which was February of last year, the doctor said it’d be about six months until he kind of got back to baseline. And in September of last year, he went from chess expert to literally five months later, national master, which is a super, super fast climb. And so, I mean, it’s been a long journey, but he’s super inspiring. It’s hard to sweat the small things,” Kevin McConnell added.
Through it all, Griffin had a dream to become a national master and the determination to make it happen. Now, the 17-year-old is using his experience to pay it forward. Together, Griffin and his father have started a nonprofit organization that provides children and young adults with disabilities the opportunity to compete in chess against peers based on age, grade and chess rating.
In June, ChessAbilities is hosting its North American tournament in Denver.