Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy used to spend his summers swimming across Lake Ronkonkoma, preparing himself for military action. On Saturday, more than 4,200 people gathered at the same spot to honor Murphy and participate in Ronkonkoma’s 4-mile “Run Around the Lake.”
Murphy, a Patchogue native and posthumous Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in combat in June 2005 as he was leading a four-man SEAL team into the anarchic mountains lining the Pakistan border. He was 29.
The race, started in 1980 by the Ronkonkoma Rotary, was dedicated in 2005 to Murphy and the 18 other men who were killed during Operation Red Wings. Murphy worked during his high school and college years as a lifeguard at Brookhaven Town Beach along Lake Ronkonkoma.
“You just look around here and you see all these people who are out here honoring a local guy,” Murphy’s father, Daniel Murphy, said. “It’s overwhelming.”
"I am so touched when they come and they say, ‘Oh Mr. Murphy, we’re honored that you’re here.’ I turn it around and say, 'No, I’m honored that you’re here,'” he said.
Murphy’s mother, Maureen Murphy, appreciates the relatives, friends and strangers who gathered to remember her son and his men on this day, she said.
The race comprises a 1-mile “fun run” and 4-mile run and walk shortly after. The trail circles the lake and crosses through the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Park.
More than 3,300 people finished the 4-miler Saturday, but 24 runners had already traversed 46 miles before reaching the race’s starting line Saturday morning. They were completing the “50 Miles for Murph” run.
This year marks the seventh 50-mile run dedicated to Murphy. Each year, participating runners meet the night before at the El Barrios Bravest Fire Department in Spanish Harlem, where they begin their 12-hour journey to Ronkonkoma.
In Afghanistan, Murphy wore a sleeve emblem honoring a former lifeguard he worked with, Owen O'Callaghan, who later became one of Spanish Harlem’s Engine 53, Ladder 43 firefighters. Murphy did so for his SEAL team members to remember Sept. 11, 2001, and what they were fighting for, race organizer Paul Dobiecki said.
Ronald Hurtato, a longtime Army veteran and founding member of the Airborne Tri Team — a nonprofit committed to helping mentally and physically disabled veterans — was one of this year’s 50-milers.
“I feel it’s the least we could do for a Medal of Honor recipient that gave his life for us,” Hurtato said. “As all of us being combat veterans, being in Afghanistan, being in the same mountains where he got killed, it’s close to home.”
Beneficiaries of the race include the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Scholarship Foundation, the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Lone Survivor Foundation.
Murphy would have loved an event like this, said his former fiancee, Heather Blasi of Bethpage.
“I think, sometimes, people lose sight of what’s still going on in the world,” Blasi said. “It’s important to have these events … and keep people with the sight that this is still something that’s going on.”