I'm A Burn Survivor Who Was Given 1% Chance Of Living — How Sports Gave Me My Spirit Back

Just like in sports, we can’t change our mistakes or the last play, we just have to focus on the next play.

Author playing lacrosse and speaking his story Courtesy Of Author

Sports have always been a big part of my life. For as long as I can remember, I have been chasing after a soccer ball, football, basketball, lacrosse ball, and now, especially when it is a poor shot, chasing golf balls. My parents said I was like a golden retriever; nothing made me happier than running around fields, gyms, pitches, and courses.

Without a doubt, my life revolved around sports. I'd go from one season to the next, always playing a sport since I was in elementary school. When we weren’t playing in the rec leagues, you could find us in the neighborhood, in someone’s driveway, or in the open park up the street, playing whatever we felt like that day.


I know this love for sports and my upbringing in athletics helped give me the tools I needed when I was faced with my untimely adversity.

RELATED: The Deep Emotional Skills Kids Learn From Regular Exercise

By eighth grade I was in my second year of playing quarterback for the football team, I made the basketball team again and was one of the rising stars for lacrosse in an area that still was fairly new to the game. I was exactly where I wanted to be and felt like my path was to play collegiate sports, maybe even professionally.

That was until one night, an outdoor fireplace explosion left me with 90 percent burns on my body, 75 percent being 3rd-degree, and I was given a 1 percent chance of survival. After three months in a medically induced coma and nearly 100 surgeries, I woke up to see my fate for the first time.


Wrapped head to toe in bandages, I was about 30 to 40 pounds lighter, missing my left index finger and thumb, with the rest of my fingers bent. I couldn’t move, everything hurt and then I got the news. Because of the extent of my injury, the doctors didn’t believe I would be able to walk again, let alone play sports.

It was a grim report where the picture painted was one that I felt was impossible to see. I was 13 years old in the hospital, and I was told that the life I knew, the life I had dreamed of, was all over. I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend a few days in darkness; feeling sorry for myself, crying, questioning everything.

But then, the inner athlete kicked in.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Get Through Hard Times That Feel Impossible


As an athlete, I know when you get hurt you have to give yourself time to heal and then you rehab and retrain. I was in the healing process, there was no doubt about that. I still needed my skin grafts to heal, I needed to get stronger, and I needed to rehab and retrain. It was as easy as that, but it began with a change in my mindset.

Things weren’t going to just get magically better. I had to work to help, and I had to believe in a process that works. Again, if you break a bone, tear a ligament, whatever the injury, it isn’t going to heal overnight and if you don’t rehab it or retrain it, it is never going to get better. So, that is where my mind went. Except this wasn’t a knee or shoulder, this was my whole body, and I was starting over from square one.

The hardest part was that my mind was no different than it was before, so I knew how to do things like walk, tie shoes, get dressed, etc. but my body couldn’t do it.

It took retraining my mind to say, alright this is our new circumstances, and we will start from here, like a blank canvas.


My process was a simple one too, just get a little better each day. Whatever stretching exercise I was doing or movement, I was going to try to go a little further or longer than I did the day before. This allowed me to just focus on the progress and not what I lost, and it was these little victories that helped keep me going.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could start standing again and it took some special shoes and a lot of pain management, but eventually, I took my first steps.

Connor Mckemey

Photo: Author


It was crazy to see just how far I had fallen in just a short time. Three months prior, I could run around on a field all day and never get tired but after the accident, I just took two steps and was out of breath and energy for the day. If that was the mindset it would’ve been incredibly frustrating. I couldn’t think about that anymore.

Just like in sports, we can’t change our mistakes or the last play, we just have to focus on the next play. From all my years playing sports that’s all you hear, right? Get the next one, make the next play, focus on one play at a time, one possession at a time. These were drilled into me, and I had seen it work so many times. I knew the importance of maintaining my focus on the future because that was the only thing we had any control over.

RELATED: Why You Need To Let Go Of The Things You Cannot Change

Step by step, going a little further each day, eventually led me to walk out of that hospital five months after the accident. I took the same mindset to my rehab and training when I got home. I started working with one of the best trainers in the area, who took a kid who could barely move, was frail and fragile, and gave him the ability to go back out on those fields and chase his dream again.


After six months of rehab and training, I finally had the opportunity to get back out on the fields and play. Once I got out there, the same golden retriever was back, and I was in my happy place once again.

Over the course of the next four years, I continued to focus on just getting a little bit better each day and chasing my dreams. When there was a setback with injuries, infections, or surgeries, I would go right back to that mindset and focus on the next play.

This ultimately led me to fulfill my childhood dream of playing Division 1 lacrosse at an elite university. To this day I continue to live by that mantra of just trying to get a little better each day, focus on the next play, and more importantly than anything else, believe things can get better and will get better.


I know without my upbringing in sports and the values it provided me, my journey would’ve looked a lot different. Sports will teach you how to win, how to handle loss and adversity, and the importance of working as a team, rather than individually.

Sports, coaches, teammates, friends, and family provided me with the tools to handle the extreme adversity I faced, but I still had to make that choice. As long as there is time left on the clock, you better believe my choice is always going to be on the next play.

RELATED: 5 Ways Tragedy Makes You A Much Stronger Person, According To Psychologists

Connor McKemey is an athlete and coach who survived a propane tank explosion in his backyard and was given a 1 percent chance of survival. In his recent book, Life Ignited: A Hopeful Journey Sparked by Fire, he not only shares his journey since that near-death experience but also discloses the very mindset that helped him overcome the many adversities that life threw his way.