Checkmate! How a Power Chair and a Game Changed my Life

By Michael Lenox, Illinois Chess Vets

My name is Michael Lenox, Chief Petty Officer Submarine/Diver USN (Ret). I am currently the Founder/President of Illinois Chess Vets NFP, a Board member for Illinois Chess Association NFP, and a committee member for the US Chess Federation (USCF) Special Needs and Circumstance Committee. Twelve years ago, I had a major stroke which has left me with right-sided weakness.

Accessible Chess

The Game-Changing Power of my Power Wheelchair

My story begins while I am an in-patient at the Seattle VA Hospital for a month and a half for occupational and physical rehabilitation. I am in a "mental haze" and unable to think clearly 24 hours a day since my stroke. A buddy of mine visited me from San Diego and challenges me to a game of chess, which I have played for years. In my amazement, I was able to think clearly and actually win the game against him. I credit chess for its contribution in aiding my mental recovery.

Fast forward two years. I am in a manual wheelchair and now living in Chicago. My wonderful wife, Lia, is a full 100 pounds lighter than me and bears the burden of pushing me around. Propelling a manual wheelchair with one arm and leg is not impossible, just really tiring and inefficient. The VA had offered to provide me with a power chair, but my wife was in love with our Nissan Murano and I wouldn't dare deprive her of it. I was so adamant about not inconveniencing her, that I didn't leave our house for months except for medical appointments.

Inclusive Chess

Then I saw it on a visit to the Chicago VA hospital, a power wheelchair being lifted by an electric lift attached to a towing hitch. Bingo! This was the solution. We contacted the VA and in short order had a power wheelchair and an electric lift. It was a total life changer.

Chess is Uniquely Inclusive and Accessible

I wanted to "spread the news" about how chess had helped me. We started out by founding a few chess clubs at senior centers, running chess recreational therapy programs alongside a therapist at VA hospitals. These programs were mainly for patients with PTSD, traumatic brain Injuries, spinal cord injuries and residential care facility patients. We have had several success stories.

I also conduct presentations on games and how they can help therapeutically. Notice I said games and not chess. On the mere mention of chess, I would lose the majority of my older audience. Chess is played globally and you don't have to speak each other's language. It is played by all social classes and abilities. This includes the blind, mentally and physically challenged. A game of chess can be played verbally as well.

Here is the most important aspect of the game of chess: if you play it (or even if folks think you do), you are considered intelligent. This does not apply to cards, dominoes or dice. I haven't met a person yet in my life that does not want others to think they are smart. This is especially true of patients who are in rehabilitation.

Chess Vets at Abilities Expo in Chicago

Game play can also be a very important aspect of one's "quality of life." If you remember back of your own fond memories of family and/or friends, it will probably include times of playing games. Why not share these experiences with those you care about. Some folks consider that playing games is a waste of time. Is it?

Play chess at Abilities Expo Chicago with the Illinois Chess Vets in booth #219.


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