Islip wrestler returns to roots, bringing uplifting message

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Born without legs, Rohan Murphy, 26, works out

Born without legs, Rohan Murphy, 26, works out at Gold's Gym in Islip. The young man from East Islip did not let his disability hold him back. He had successful high school and college wrestling careers and graduated from Penn State University. Currently, when he's not working as a motivational speaker and personal trainer, he's preparing for the 2012 Paralympic games in London. (Sept. 30, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

Rohan Murphy has a beautiful face. And hands that are elegant, despite thick rows of calluses. And when he's at the gym with his buddies, friends he's had since grade school, his sense of humor shines through.

He's happy. He's comfortable. Especially in his own skin.

Murphy, 26, who was raised in Islip, is back on Long Island. And, he says, he's not going anywhere. "I love it here," said the East Islip High School wrestling star who went on to compete at Penn State and, later, internationally, as a power lifter. "My friends, the community that gave me so much, is here."

So after a few years in Pennsylvania, he - unlike so many other young adult Long Islanders who go away to school, decided to come home.

Rohan didn't move back in with his parents. They'd left Long Island for a suburb of Atlanta, where, compared with Suffolk, temperatures are high and property taxes are low.

Murphy, who was featured in a Nike commercial, makes a living as a motivational speaker. And he especially likes going to schools, where he will tell the story of his life and then scan the audience for a kid who will sit on his back while he does push-ups. That's always a showstopper.

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Here's another: Murphy does all of this without legs.

He lost his legs as a youngster, the result of multiple birth defects. He has no hip joint on one side; and half a hip joint on the other. Murphy also had webbed fingers, which later were separated. His hands are severely callused because, he said, "I use them as my feet, as my legs, actually."

One of his buddies, Dan Rocklein, 25, recalled a time during wrestling practice when Murphy beat his teammates in a sprint exercise - running on his hands. "I'll never forget coach screaming, He's got no legs and he beat you? Do it again," Rocklein said as Murphy and another former teammate, Greg Melita classmate, laughed.

"There's no manual for living without legs," Murphy said. "I had to figure out, through trial and error, what worked best for me." Murphy does not use prosthetics. Instead, he uses his powerful arms to get around.

And now, he's using them to teach. Newly certified as a personal trainer at Gold's Gym in Islip, he's using modified equipment in conjunction with a program called Project VisAbility to encourage other amputees or disabled to join in and work out.

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He works on a piece of equipment - a Krankcycle - that helps clients of Gold's in Deer Park, Smithtown and Islip exercise their arms the way spinning exercises the legs.

Besides conducting the exercise classes, Murphy will "ride" a Krankcycle for three hours Oct. 30 at the gym as part of a fundraiser for Project VisAbility.

Meanwhile, Murphy, who is staying with a friend's family, is looking for an apartment in Islip. It's been tough because there are few rentals and even fewer that are handicapped accessible. "I've tried to get a waiver from a couple of senior citizen complexes, but so far no good," he said. "I will keep looking."

But the search won't slow him down.

"One of my goals is to recruit more people with disabilities to join the classes," he said. Murphy also is working on a new website, so he can expand his motivational speaking business. And he's training for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

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So far, Murphy's lifted 350 pounds in competition.

His goal: 400.

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