He is a figure known to almost everyone in the extended East Islip school and sports communities. A man of many identities – famous wrestler, powerlifter extraordinaire, EI and Penn State alumnus, Nike spokesman, motivational speaker – that all revolve around a singular vision of overcoming obstacles and living life with purpose. One of East Islip's finest success stories, Rohan Murphy now spends much of his time traveling the nation, speaking to students on topics such as transcending adversity, embracing differences, building self-esteem and setting goals.
Murphy’s physical limitations would have deterred all but the most persistent human beings. He was born with severe birth defects – including a missing hip joint – that resulted in his legs being amputated at age four. Finding a niche was tough for the young man, who occasionally wore prosthetic legs to try and fit in with his schoolmates. Sports proved the key to unlocking his physical and inspirational talents.
While Murphy was attending East Islip Middle School, physical education teacher Ron Croteau recognized his interest in athletics and his considerable upper-body strength. Croteau tried to get him involved, at first as manager of the soccer team. Croteau was also the coach of the high school’s wrestling team, and convinced freshman Murphy to give the sport a chance. “I tried it and loved it,” Murphy explained. Hard work and dedication eventually led to remarkable success on the mat – he was a three-time All-League and two-time All-County wrestler while at East Islip – and his subsequent wrestling career at Pennsylvania State University.
Murphy also began powerlifting while in college, and was soon participating in Paralympic weightlifting events. He won a bronze medal at the 2006 IPC World Powerlifting Championships in Busan, Korea, where he lifted a record-breaking 281.1 pounds. Nike noticed, and featured him in one of their “No Excuses” campaign commercials in 2008.
He graduated college in 2006 with a degree in kinesiology, but his entrepreneurial calling proved to be in the realm of speech. During Murphy’s years at Penn State, head wrestling coach Troy Sutherland helped interest him in public speaking by having him discuss his life experiences with summer sports campers. Over time, noting the incredibly positive response and the potential demand for his unique brand of motivational talks, Murphy decided to make a professional career of it. He has since kept a busy schedule, traveling across the United States to speak about his inspirational life story at dozens of middle and high schools, colleges, corporations and non-profit organizations, as well as launching his own social networking community CatchSpark.com.
In Oct. 2011, Murphy paid an official visit to East Islip to talk to middle school students in the high school auditorium. His presentation awed the kids in attendance, much as it does everywhere else he speaks, but it meant something especially meaningful for him. “Speaking at East Islip High School last fall was a great honor,” Murphy said. “I usually don't get nervous before I speak, but that wasn't the case that day. As I was going through the hallways, memories of being a student at EI came back to me. Speaking at the school was just so special for me because if it wasn't for the teachers and administrators in that building, I wouldn't be where I am today. Now that I am an adult, I just want to give back to the students of East Islip.”
Several times a week he can be found working out at Gold’s Gym in Islip, where he is a highly respected regular, pushing himself hard every time, as well as a workout instructor. Murphy had originally planned to train for the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games, but his burgeoning career in motivational speaking didn’t quite leave him enough time. “My goal now is to give a speech in every state in the country,” he said. “I want to motivate kids and help them get ahead in life.”