When Freddy Rodriguez runs across a 50-mile stretch from Manhattan to Lake Ronkonkoma, he remembers the many lives lost — especially one in particular — in the war zone of a foreign land he’s never been to.
All year long, Rodriguez, of Carle Place, braces himself for the race in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings. Murphy, 29, was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor, in 2007, for attempting to save three fellow soldiers during an ambush by the Taliban. Only one member of the four-man reconnaissance team survived.
Rodriguez will be joined Friday night by more than a dozen runners when he sets out from Third Avenue at 7 p.m. as part of “50 Miles for Murph.” They will run through the night and are expected to arrive in Lake Ronkonkoma on Saturday morning. Proceeds from the race will go to the Lt. Michael Murphy Scholarship Foundation, the Lone Survivor Foundation and other charities that benefit veterans.
“That’s a long way,” Rodriguez said as he recalled when he first took part in the race. “But we just said to ourselves [that] compared to the training these guys went through, what they went through that day in Afghanistan, [the distance] pales in comparison.”
Murphy is regarded as a legend in his hometown of Patchogue and a personal hero to Rodriguez, who has participated in the race for the past five years.
Each year, Rodriguez wears a patch on his arm like one Murphy wore throughout his time in the military. It represents FDNY Engine Company 53, Ladder 43, the firehouse in Spanish Harlem that Murphy’s best friend was a member of during 9/11. Rodriguez said the patch was a reminder for Murphy of why he and his fellow soldiers were fighting. Rodriguez also wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “50 miles for Murph and Operation Red Wings.”
“I found out he could have had a career as a lawyer, but decided he had a better calling in life — he wanted to serve his country,” Rodriguez said. “He wasn’t just a Navy SEAL.”
Daniel Murphy, Michael’s father, said Rodriguez is among many people who have worked to keep his son’s memory alive. Officials in Patchogue recently dedicated a firetruck, “Murph the Protector,” in Michael’s honor. Daniel Murphy, of Wading River, said the firetruck is another reminder that his son is “still on duty saving lives.”
Rodriguez and the other runners will be escorted by members of the NYPD, the Floral Park Fire Department and the Suffolk County Police Department. Several other firetrucks will participate in the event, including “Murph the Protector.”
Shortly after Rodriguez and the other runners arrive on Long Island, another race — this one 4 miles long — will be held in Murphy’s memory.
“It gives you an indication of how Michael touches so many lives, even now,” Daniel Murphy said. “He did some extraordinary things.”