Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'The Ultimate Underdog' Slum life to Disney film: Ugandan teen chess star


She grew up in one of the poorest spots on earth. She couldn't read or write. As a child, she scrounged for food each day for herself, her mother, and her brother.

But a chance encounter with a chess coach turned her into a rising international chess star, the subject of a book -- and the protagonist in a future Disney movie.

Ugandan teenager Phiona Mutesi is "the ultimate underdog," her biographer says.

Those who work with her believe she's 16. But since her birthday is unclear, she might still only be 15, they say.

Her father died from AIDS when Mutesi was around 3.

Robert Katende, a missionary and refugee of Uganda's civil war, had started a chess program in Katwe. He offered a bowl of porridge to any child who would show up and learn.

"It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases -- and possibly not giving up," he told CNN. "The discipline, the patience ... anything to do with life, you can get it in that game."




Mutesi did not become a top player overnight. But from the time she first showed up in 2005, her aptitude was clear.   Her talent is "extraordinary," said Katende.

She walked about four miles a day to practice -- and to get that precious food.

Mutesi and her family faced pressure from some people in Uganda who insisted chess was a white man's game, or at least not something girls should be playing, according to her biographer, Tim Crothers.
But in her slum, so few people even knew what chess was that they didn't give her a hard time, Mutesi told CNN.
Eventually, she became her country's champion -- and represented Uganda at international tournaments. In 2009, she traveled to Sudan. Then, in 2010, she boarded an airplane to Siberia.

When the flight took off, "I thought that I was maybe in heaven," she wrote in a letter to her mother quoted in Crothers' book. "I asked God to protect me because who am I to fly to the europlane."
Mutesi had also never seen ice before.

Read More: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/10/world/africa/uganda-chess-teen/index.html



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