RESPONDING NOT REACTING (T.J. Murphy)
Born with no arm below his left elbow, T.J. Murphy never used his disability as an excuse.
By Tim Dorway
Published: Fall 2001
Just graduated from high school, T.J. Murphy experienced everything any other teenager would during his high school career. Including proms, homecomings, pep rallies, yearbooks, homework, school lunches, athletics and late night bonding with close friends. But T.J., who will attend Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa this fall, wasn’t a typical high school student athlete; instead, he left a lasting impression on his peers, teachers and coaches before he left the halls of West Delaware High School.
T.J.’s story is unique and heart warming. It is the story of a young man who refuses to quit despite not having the majority of his left arm, a disability that could have severely limited his participation in athletics. However, his story is more than that to those around him. His story is about being an eleven in all aspects of life.
“One day, while reading our school paper, I realized the impact T.J. has had on people around him. Aaron Butikofer, our 152 pound state wrestling qualifier, recognized T.J. as an inspirational leader in his life. Then I knew what an impact he has had on other peoples’ lives,” says Sam Anderson, T.J.’s football coach at West Delaware. Butikofer, who had lost an older sibling, turned to T.J. for emotional support because of the obstacles T.J. has to face on a daily basis.
According to those who have been around him since he was a young boy, one impressive part of his story is that his disability doesn’t serve as a way out for him. “T.J. has never once used his situation as an excuse to not do something even if, in the end, things didn’t work out as though he expected. He responds to his situation, rather than reacts,” says Jeff Voss, T.J.’s high school wrestling coach.
T.J. doesn’t see himself as anyone out of the ordinary. Instead, the things he does and says are simply who he is. “I don’t consciously see myself as an inspiration to others,” he says. “The main question always in my mind is how can this situation be made better to improve the team.”
T.J. Sees Obstacles
as a Challenge
T.J. was born with his disability. While in his mother’s womb, the umbilical cord became wrapped around T.J.’s little arm, cutting off blood flow to the area and stunting its growth. As a result, T.J. was born with no arm below his left elbow, posing more than a few challenges for him growing up. However, he didn’t let it stop him.
“This kid is so determined,” says Voss. “He was at a disadvantage from the word ‘go’, but he never saw it that way. It simply became a challenge for him to overcome.”
And he did. Check out what he has done. T.J. has played almost every sport imaginable. He pitched for the city’s baseball team, even batting with one arm; he wrestled at 140 pounds for his high school team, coming within a couple of points of qualifying for state; he played running back in an option offense (not once fumbling the ball from ninth grade on, according to his coach) and defensive back for the football team; and he has also played basketball and participated in track.
In the weight room, T.J.’s CAN DO attitude carried over. Rather than simply saying “that’s not possible for me to do,” he and his coaches found a way to get the job done by purchasing an Aluma-Lite bar and adapting the lifts to help T.J. with balance. He does the complete BFS program now and hasn’t missed a workout since the school adopted the program a couple of years ago. Even after graduation, Murphy is a fixture in the weight room in the afternoons, as he would like to wrestle at college in the fall.
Take a look at his numbers and you will see that T.J.’s work ethic is outstanding. His current max is 180 pounds on the bench press, 165 pounds for the power clean and 230 pound squat. One of his greatest accomplishments is being one of the original members of the weight program’s Champion Club, a club based on an individual’s power to weight ratio. It is also the highest level of honor in the program.
The BFS program has provided T.J. with daily opportunities to be a success story and that is possibly why he has latched on to the program, according to his coaches. The goal setting and attitude parts of the program really fit in with T.J.’s personality. “B.F.S. is an attitude. Coach Bozied [BFS clinician] really stressed that in our clinic, and T.J. locked on to it. It still shows up in his work because it works for him and it provides him with daily challenges. It gets kids to do their best,” says Coach Voss.
That attitude was apparent in a conversation between Coach Anderson and T.J.’s father. Anderson says he approached T.J.’s father Bob about using a prosthesis to help T.J. with the lifts. T.J.’s response gave Coach Anderson the chills. “His response, basically, was ‘I was born this way and that is the way I am going to be.’”
Bob, also the athletic director and assistant principal, is especially proud of his son’s attitude. “T.J. is focused about what he wants to get done and where he wants to go. He has overcome his disability and done far greater than others who have both hands.”
Brad Welcher, a close friend, has also noticed T.J.’s confidence and positive outlook. After a preseason anterior cruciate ligament injury ended T.J.’s junior year of football, Welcher knew that he would recover just fine. “Don’t doubt anything he can do, because he can do it as well or better than anyone else. I’ve seen him do it. He tells himself he can do it and he gets it done.”
T.J. is a Winner
The first words out of T.J.’s math teacher, and defensive backs coach, Mike Morrison spoke volumes. “T.J. doesn’t think he is different, but he really is. He has more heart, more courage than most kids.”
Off the field and wrestling mat, T.J. sets a strong example to those around him. He graduated from West Delaware High School with a 3.8 grade point average and was involved in numerous activities and organizations. He was on National Honor Society, he was elected vice president of the school’s student council, and he taught math to sixth grade students as part of a Cadet Teaching program offered at school. In his free time, he shows steers at the county fair.
An especially impressive fact is that T.J. is also a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) Role Model and has made a conscious decision to stay alcohol and chemical free, something he feels is imperative as an athlete. “If you are going to participate in athletics, commitment is a year round thing,” he states. “You cannot be truly committed to your coaches and teammates and then put yourself in a bad position.”
And for this type of leadership, his coaches are very thankful. They call him a kid they can really trust to set a good example, a young man who inspires those around them, and, according to teachers on the National Honor Society selection committee, a student who always does his best and is dependable. One coach remembered the time he stopped to see five or six younger athletes watching, mouths open in amazement, as T.J. labored to set a new rep record in the power clean.
Coach Voss is grateful to have had T.J. around to work with his mini-wrestling program, designed to get young children interested in the sport at a young age. Almost daily T.J. would hang around to play with the kids long after the camp hours were over, he would wrestle with four or five of them and he would share his positive attitude.
His coaches and friends all share the same opinion. T.J. is an eleven. They talk of his integrity, his CAN DO attitude, his goal setting, his work ethic, his respect for others, his personality and his self-discipline. But the best compliment to T.J. came from Coach Anderson and Coach Voss in two entirely different conversations. They talked of the same scenario, their sons being around T.J. because of who he is--- a great role model, a great student, a motivated young man determined to do his best.