FEATURE: Rohan Murphy Redefines the Meaning of Champion
Nov. 1, 2013
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
"Prior to ninth grade, I never went anywhere without wearing my prosthetic legs," said Murphy. "I would rather go through the drive-through at McDonalds than walk inside, because I didn't want people to look at me."
Murphy found his competitive drive when his mom signed him up for a wheelchair basketball league when he was in middle school. After competing in his first game, Murphy was anything but satisfied.
"I looked up at the score board at the end of the game and there was nothing up there," said Murphy. "I asked my coach who won and he told me there aren't any winners. We are all winners. That was not going to cut it for me."
After years of trying to fit in and to find his place, Murphy came to terms with his condition in a rather unusual environment; he became the true Rohan on the wrestling mat.
Murphy started his wrestling career as a team manager for his high school wrestling team.
"The athletic director, Mr. Crodon changed my life," said Murphy. "I wanted to do more than manage the team and keep track of points. I wanted to compete. When he told me that he thought I could wrestle, my life changed forever."
In ninth grade, Murphy traded in his clipboard for a singlet, and made the wrestling team. He posted a record of 2-13, which lit a fire inside of Murphy that has yet to blow out. The following summer, Murphy dedicated himself to the sport and begged his parents to send him to wrestling camps. His sophomore year, Murphy improved his record to 25-6. While the average person would agree that his success was remarkable, Murphy wanted more.
"At the end of the season banquet I was given the most improved wrestler award," said Murphy. "I didn't want to be most improved. I wanted to be the MVP."
The following off-season, Murphy attended the J. Robinson Wrestling Camp at the University of Minnesota, where he would train and condition for 28 days.
"My parents were always over protective of me," said Murphy. "They were worried about sending me to a camp that far from home. I told them, it was time to set me free."
When Murphy arrived at the camp, he was greeted by Brock Lesnar, professional wrestler and UFC champion.
"My first day, Coach Lesnar took me out to the football field," said Murphy. "He told me to sprint on my hands from one end to another, doing push ups at each end-line. I though he was kidding."
Murphy completed Lesnar's request.
"He told me to do it again," said Murphy. "I guess he was impressed."
Murphy went on to become a force to be reckoned with on the mat. As his senior year approached, he had his eyes set on going to a big school. Penn State was his number one choice.
"When I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to go to Penn State, he was shocked," said Murphy. "He kept asking me how I was going to get around, reminding me that it snows there. I was determined to go to Penn State."
As a freshman, Murphy went through the motions, attended classes and became your typical college student. As usual, Murphy wanted to be more than one-dimensional.
In his sophomore year, Murphy decided to email former wrestling head coach Troy Sunderland in an effort to set up a tryout for the team.
"When I emailed him I told him everything about myself, " said Murphy. "I just forgot to mention that I had no legs."
When Murphy met with Sunderland for the first time, Sunderland offered him a position as a team manager.
"I told him that I didn't want to be a manager, I wanted to wrestle," said Murphy. " So, I took down Sunderland in his office."
At the first day of team practice, Sunderland brought the team to Mount Nittany, where they were required to run to the top as part of their training.
"When I looked at that mountain, I knew I had no choice but to make it up that mountain," said Murphy. "So I crawled for one and a half hours, but I made it."
Murphy posted a 5-15 Division I Big Ten wrestling record against able-bodied athletes, while also competing for Penn State's Ability Athletics Team.
"Rohan is an infectious, positive person who is an inspiration," said Teri Jordan, coach of the PSU Ability Athletics Team.
Jordan coached Murphy in powerlifting and track and field. At Murphy's first meet, he set a record, building his momentum for what was yet to come. In 2005, Murphy set a Power Lifting record of 250 pounds at the Southeast Regional Paralympic Meet. In 2006, he won a Bronze medal in the IPC World Powerlifting Championships.
"For as long as I have known him, he has had such a sense of confidence," said Jordan. " He is extraordinary."
After graduating from Penn State with a Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology, Murphy went on to become a motivational speaker, Nike spokesperson, and is currently training for the 2020 Powerlifting Olympic games.
"In life you have the choice of being average, good or great," said Murphy. "Always choose to be great."
On October 30th, Murphy took the stage in a familiar arena; he entertained a large crowd at his alma mater in the HUB Robeson center. In attendance were current students, faculty, student athletes, coaches and local kids who look up to Murphy. Sitting in the front row was none other than current Penn State wrestler, Andrew Alton.
"He has such a great story to tell," said Alton. "When I hear the story of him making it up that mountain, I have so much respect for him. It's been said, once you wrestle, you can do anything."
During his speech Wednesday evening, Murphy told the audience that everyone has the ability to be successful and to do great things. As Murphy is such an inspiration to us all, he paid tribute to his mom and how she inspires him.
"Through it all, she never gave up on me," said Murphy.
"Four years from now, the bars will still be open downtown and there will still be football games on the weekends," said Murphy. "If there is one piece of advice I could give you, it's that the time is now."
Aside from competing in the 2020 Olympics, Murphy has goals outside of the gym and off the mat.
"I want to make a speech in every state," said Murphy. "I have made it to 28 states so far, I plan on making it to 50."
When asked if there was ever a point when he wanted to give up, or throw in the towel, Murphy explained that he has always been an "intrinsically motivated" person.
"Money, cars and awards don't motivate me," said Murphy. "My motivation comes from within.
"Life is a funny thing," said Murphy. "You can only move forward, but you measure your life by looking back."