UNIVERSITY PARK — Rohan Murphy, a former Penn State wrestler who lost his legs at the age of four due to a birth defect, gave a motivational speech to Penn State students Wednesday.
Murphy spoke at one of Penn State’s final October events held in order to raise awareness of the talents and abilities of people who have disabilities.
“When I was born, my kneecaps were on the opposite side they should have been. My legs were backwards,” he said.
Murphy’s parents had his legs removed at a young age so Murphy would be able to wear prosthetics later in life.
He did not notice how different he was from kids his age until middle school.
“I started to notice I was different because I couldn’t play sports,” he said. “I loved sports so much that I wanted to get past my disability so I could play.”
Murphy joined a wheelchair basketball league in middle school but realized after his first game that there was no score. Murphy’s basketball coach explained that everyone who played in this league was considered a winner, which did not resonate with Murphy.
“When I watched sports at home, there were always winners and losers,” he said. “That’s the nature of sports, the nature of competition.”
Murphy quit the team after the first game.
In eighth grade, Murphy became the equipment manager for middle school sports.
“Being equipment manager was such an opportunity for me,” he said. “I finally felt like part of a team.”
During his freshman year, Murphy was told by Ron Croteau, the wrestling coach at East Islip High School, that he should try wrestling. Murphy was apprehensive, but Croteau was persistent enough to convince Murphy try the sport.
“After going to my first practice, I realized that I wanted to be an athlete, not an equipment manager,” he said. “When coach Croteau persuaded me to try wrestling, he changed my life.”
Murphy would become one of the school’s most decorated wrestlers, becoming a two-time All-County wrestler.
Murphy would graduate high school and attend Penn State. However, Murphy did not wrestle his first two years at Penn State.
“One day, I was in my dorm, and I just knew that something wasn’t right. I missed wrestling,” he said.
Murphy then decided to attempt to walk on for the wrestling team during his junior year. Then-wrestling coach Troy Sunderland initially doubted Murphy’s ability to wrestle due to his disability, but agreed to give Murphy a tryout. Murphy would make the team.
During his collegiate career, Murphy earned three varsity letters and had a record of five wins and 10 losses.
“Sometimes in life, success can’t be measured in wins and losses,” Murphy said. “I went from a kid who was homeschooled because I was afraid to attend school to Penn State graduate. That shows more success than my wrestling record.”
Murphy demonstrated his wrestling strategy to the audience when he invited current members of the Penn State wrestling team to join him on stage. Murphy’s method of wrestling consists of using his leverage to his advantage and forcing his opponents to the ground through superior upper body strength.
Along with being a collegiate wrestler, Murphy is also an accomplished powerlifter, winning a bronze medal in the 2002 International Paralympic Committee World Powerlifting Championships. His performance at those games grabbed Nike’s attention, which later featured him in an ad for their “No Excuses” campaign.
Murphy hopes to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in powerlifting.
“Don’t let anything ever let you stop you from being successful in life,” he said. “I’ve been able to do amazing things because I learned not to let my disability get in the way of success.”
Since college, Murphy has worked as a motivational speaker with a focus on speaking to middle and high schools.
Murphy ended his speech by stressing the importance of a good support system.
“I had so many people along the way to help me. My parents, friends, coaches,” he said. “There are so many things you can accomplish in life by yourself. Success is not one of them.”
Jack Small is a Penn State journalism student.