Seeing him walk off the track at Texas Relays, sporting a huge smile as he became the new focal point of every flashing camera, you could almost see the imaginary cape draped across his shoulders.
But Isaac Murphy’s smile was actually one of shock and disbelief that he had accomplished something so great. What appeared to be an almost effortless series of events leading to his victory were nearly unbearable the week before.
“I was kind of nervous before Texas Relays because the week before, all the things that you’re supposed to take care of and feel good about, weren’t really happening for me,” Murphy said. “Things at school weren’t going that great and I was feeling sick a couple of days before. I didn’t feel like I wanted to feel. I felt flustered.”
Murphy felt pretty heavy-laden, like everything was crashing down on him on the week he needed to feel the most secure. Mental toughness and a fresh mind are crucial for decathletes and their success. But quite honestly, Murphy felt like his was completely blown.
And just when he thought his situation couldn’t get any worse, it did. Friday’s forecasted clear skies and warm weather suddenly transformed into rain showers. Sand pits turned to mud and the lanes lost their traction. But for Murphy, such a simple unexpected act of nature was enough to overhaul his entire outlook on the remainder of the weekend.
“I remember getting ready to line up for the 100 meters and it started raining,” Murphy said. “It felt good to feel the rain. And I thought to myself, ‘Are you going be upset about it or you going to relax and run anyway?’ I didn’t care about anything after that. In my head, that was the turning point.”
Eventually the drizzle stopped, but Murphy’s personal records kept coming. He set or matched personal records in seven of the ten events, joining former UT decathletes Trey Hardee and Aaron Fox as decathlon champions.
“I didn’t realize how much coverage our decathlon was going to get,” Murphy said with a smile. “We usually don’t get as much love as we did that weekend.” Murphy was most excited to see the multi-faceted sport expand its audience.
But what really got head coach Bubba Thornton’s blood pumping is a talented young athlete finally listening to his advice. On Thursday, while Murphy was sitting in the grass taking off his track spikes after clenching fourth place in the 1500-meter run, coach Thornton approached him.
“Now, what’s different about this feeling and the feeling you felt at Indoor Nationals sitting on the bench after getting 10th place?” Thornton asked. Murphy replied with a grin, “You told me to have fun Bubba, and I listened.”
In a whirlwind of events and a day filled with mixed emotions, Murphy couldn’t help but think of Bill Collins, the man who molded him into the competitor he is today.
Collins was more than Murphy’s club track coach at Collins Elite Sprint; he was the first man to ever have faith in Murphy’s future. While a student at Harker Heights High School in Harker Heights, Texas, Murphy’s grades weren’t the greatest and his home life had seen happier days. In need of a change, Murphy took his best friend up on an offer to attend track practice with Collins.
“Out of this bad situation that I was in, I met the greatest man I’ve ever known in my life,” Murphy said. “My club track coach Bill Collins. He really was a father figure to me. He taught me what was what, got my grades straight and motivated me to come to UT.”
As the stands of Mike A. Myers Stadium emptied and the last few congratulatory remarks were exchanged between Murphy and his competitors, he received an unexpected text message from world champion decathlete Trey Hardee.
“He told me congrats, and it felt good to hear that from the world champion in my event. But immediately after that text he sent another one that read ‘You left a lot of points out there on the track. You need to get ready to get out there and back to work.’”
Taking Hardee’s words to heart and realizing what separates competitors from champions, Murphy knows that he can do them all even better.
“I want to jump farther in the long jump because I know that I can. I want to throw a couple of feet farther in the shot put because I’ve done it in practice. I want to jump a few inches higher in high jump because I felt like I could’ve at Texas Relays. I want to run faster in the hurdles because I felt like my arms were loose during the race. I want to throw farther in the discus because my personal record is 10 feet farther than what I threw at Relays. I want to jump higher in pole vault because I know I can get on some bigger sticks come conference time. I want to throw farther in the javelin because I know the impingement in my shoulder will feel better by then.”
And no matter what challenges and setbacks the weeks ahead attempt to hurl at him, he’s already got his game plan set in stone. Practice is for working out the kinks and fixing all the small things. On meet days, Murphy will now be concerned with a much simpler goal: “Trust my training, trust my coach, and go out there with a smile. I think if it’s going to happen that day, it will.”
Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Decathlete Murphy pushing to build upon strong Relays