Rohan Murphy provides motivation without saying a word. And once he begins to speak, he captivates the attention of everyone in the room.
Murphy, 39, was an All-County wrestler at East Islip High School before wrestling for Penn State. These achievements are impressive enough on their own, but there’s much more to Murphy’s remarkable story.
Because of birth defects, he had both legs amputated when he was 4 years old.
The charismatic Murphy wanted to be just like everyone else his entire life. Circumstances beyond his control made certain aspects of that unachievable. But wrestling provided an avenue for him to showcase his athleticism more than 20 years ago.
“Just to be able to go out there and compete in a sport and not have any special rules or regulations for myself competing without legs, for the first time in my life it made me feel like everybody else,” he said. “Like every other athlete just going out there and competing, so it just made me feel normal and that, for me, was priceless.”
East Islip coach Ron Croteau suggested that Murphy should join the wrestling team. Murphy thought he was crazy, but he eventually accepted. Even though he struggled his freshman year, it gave the young, aspiring athlete the inspiration to continue to work toward unimaginable dreams.
“That just gave me that motivation to succeed, not only in wrestling but in life as well,” said Murphy, who now lives in Central Islip. “It all starts with a purpose, and that’s what wrestling gave me. A purpose.”
Murphy, who graduated from East Islip in 2001, has turned that purpose into a passionate public speaking career. He has spoken in nearly every school district on Long Island and in 40 different states. He wants to speak in every Long Island district and in all 50 states.
“When you can make a difference in the world while making a living, that’s what life’s all about,” Murphy said. “That’s what I call having your dream job, and that’s what speaking is, it’s my dream job.”
But Murphy, who wore prosthetic legs as a youth but hasn’t since beginning to wrestle, wasn’t always comfortable speaking in front of a room.
It took some convincing by former Penn State coach Troy Sunderland for Murphy to make his first public speaking appearance at the end of a Penn State summer wrestling camp. Sunderland wanted Murphy to speak with the campers throughout the week, and he finally obliged.
“That first time I really had to twist his arm to open up and tell his story, but the kids were into it, they really were,” Sunderland said. “It’s crazy to see him going around the country and giving all of these motivational talks and Day 1, it wasn’t really something he looked forward to doing.”
Murphy will never forget that day. A local principal in the crowd heard his speech and invited Murphy to speak at his school. That laid the foundation for his career as a motivational speaker.
Croteau, who now coaches middle school wrestling at East Islip, still brings Murphy in every year to talk to the team.
“I’ve never seen anybody pay attention to someone like they do to him,” Croteau said. “He just catches an audience. You see him and you hear his story and it’s honest and truthful, and sometimes you can see that in people. It’s not a story, it’s the truth.”
Murphy, who said he went 91-27 in his four varsity seasons, said it took him basically a year to learn how to properly wrestle and master a technique that would lead to victories. He remembers going 2-13 his first year wrestling as a freshman and being extremely frustrated, but he never quit. He credited coaches and teammates at practice for finding his proper technique after “a lot of trial and error.'' Murphy said he went 25-6 as a sophomore before back-to-back seasons with at least 30 wins.
“There’s an old saying in biomechanics that leverage equals strength,” he said. “You can have the biggest muscles in the world, but if your body isn’t in the right position for the correct leverage, you won’t have the strength to do those techniques.”
Murphy, who remains in tremendous shape by working out two to three hours a day, is speaking at New York juvenile detention centers this summer. He said he’s excited to tell his story in a different environment to people who can benefit from a story of overcoming adversity.
“Just because you’re dealt a bad hand in life doesn’t mean you have to fold, and that’s what I’d like to think I’ve done in my life,” Murphy said. “I was dealt a bad hand but I didn’t fold. I didn’t give up. I’ve persevered, and I tell them if I can overcome this, they can overcome what they’ve done in their lives and they still have time to be successful.”
That’s what it’s all about for Murphy — sharing his story. He preaches perseverance to anyone willing to listen.
“Life’s all about making a difference and having an impact on the world,” he said. “If you can leave this Earth and have an impact before you do, that’s what it’s all about.”