Murphy Pours Himself Into Honoring a Memory
August 16, 2012
Just over twenty-six years ago, the Wisconsin skies opened on newly weds Dean and Dawn Murphy.
“The day my mom and dad were married it was a sunny day and just as they went into the church it started to torrentially downpour,” said Justin Murphy.
In the years following the 1986 nuptials, Dean and Dawn’s family expanded from just two to “The Murphy Five” as the family email account lets on.
The second of their three sons, Justin, is a member of the 2012 USRowing Junior National team competing in the men’s pair at the 2012 Rowing Junior World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Unfortunately, this week only four of the family can celebrate Murphy’s momentous opportunity.
For the past two years, the Murphy men have been supporting each other after Dawn Murphy died of kidney cancer in April of 2011.
Since his mother’s death the middle Murphy has found added significance, what he considers signs of acknowledgement, in experiences like unexpected rainfall.
“When my coach called me and told me that we’d made it and the other pair had to drop out it was a sunny day out,” said Murphy. “As I got into my car to drive over to his house and work everything out the sky turned cloudy all of a sudden and it starts pouring. I get to my coaches house and the second I open my door to run inside, the rain just stops.
“I think if you believe in signs, I think that’s a sign that she was definitely watching and kind of her saying congratulations.”
From his perspective, when the clouds quickly formed to deliver a summer shower, it was a blessing of his most recent accomplishment from his deceased mother.
Making the junior worlds championship team is a validation of his decision to continue rowing after the loss of his mother.
She first introduced him to the sport.
“I got into rowing because one day in eighth grade I came home from school and my mom said, ‘Justin I signed you up for learn to row,’” said Murphy.
“I’d never heard of the sport, and I’m not going to lie, but I wanted to play baseball or soccer or something, because that’s what the cool kids played.”
Murphy’s coach at Montclair High School, Jeremy Michalitsianos, said it was clear that the tall young rower was not all that keen on crew for the first few weeks.
Despite the initial dislike of crew, Murphy excels at a high level for his age.
He and his pair’s partner, Nathan Goodman, finished second at the 2012 Junior World Championship Trials on July 10, 2012, to Aaron McAvey and John Chuter of the U.S. National Team Selection Camp.
The young men missed making the junior national team by 1.607 seconds.
Or so they thought.
An unforeseen injury forced the trials winners to give up their places on the team in mid-July. After the first place finishers declined the opportunity to row in Bulgaria, as the runner’s up, Murphy and Goodman were offered the spots.
The new men’s pair from Montclair, New Jersey, quickly met that afternoon, made travel arrangements and filled out paperwork.
After the weathering the loss of a loved one, making the national team is a positive experience for 17-year-old Murphy.
“It was the most exciting day of my life to get a spot in,” said Murphy. “It still is the most exciting time in my life to have a place on the team. It’s surreal. It’s awesome.”
Murphy rows to pay tribute to his mother and the role she played in his athletic success.
For him one of the highlights of rowing used to be the support he received from his mother at regattas.
“She would come to all of my regattas and be would always be there standing at the medal dock.”
Murphy admits that after his mother got sick he struggled to continue rowing and stay committed. He even contemplated quitting crew after her death.
“Initially he coped in a very mature manner that first season, said Michalitsianos. “He took about three to four days off of training because he did not want to let his team down. He insisted on coming back and it ended up being a very successful season.
“This last winter there were several times when he wanted to quit. He somehow held himself together even with a very fragmented training this winter. It was very hard for him.”
It was the memory of one particular regatta that he says convinced him to not only continue rowing, but to “take every stroke for her.
“What really kept me going is that we once had a regatta that was on Mother’s Day and we won,” said Murphy.
“All of the athletes received their medal’s from their moms so my mom came down to the medals dock to give me my medal and underneath her sunglasses I could see she was crying. She gave me my medal and this huge hug and said, ‘Justin I’m so proud of you. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. I love watching you row.’”
With this mentality Murphy helped put himself in place to be the replacement pair for the junior national team.
“Last year we were going to go to trials and try out. After my mom’s death I was not really mentally there for the trials,” said Murphy
At his first trials appearance in 2011, he finished in fourth place nearly 12 seconds behind the rest of the crews in the men’s field.
“This year I thought what would be better. If winning high school regattas brought tears to her eyes that it would be the best honor if I could, the second year after her death, get on the highest level of competition in the United States for my age. I thought this would really prove that she was right. That I’m not a basketball player, I’m not a baseball player. I’m a rower. So we decided to come down to the trials and try to make the team.”
After a series of random events, Murphy and Goodman have transitioned their training from racing in the Canadian Henley to preparations for the championships with aspirations of medaling.
“Justin had some low points but somehow he pulled himself together to have a successful spring season,” said Michalitsianos. “He raced in an undefeated junior varsity four and now he’s made the team.”
The pair aims to make the A final and an ideal outcome would land them on the medal stand. At the very least Murphy would like to build off the eighth-place finish in the junior men’s pair at the 2011 World Rowing Junior Championships.
Regardless of the finish, he intends to honor his mother’s memory.
“Every time I go out for a race, I take like five minutes and I think back to that day on the dock when she said how proud watching me row made her.”
For complete event coverage, schedules and results, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Pressbox/12SrJrWorldsChampions.aspx
Monica Worsley, photo by Ed Moran