Carl Murphy, a below the knee amputee, who has a ranking of joint No.1 in the world at the end of the 2012-13 season, suffered the trauma of his father, Peter, suffering a major stroke in October. Coupled with that in the week leading up to Christmas, Murphy overshot a jump and flat landed in training. He fractured his tibial plateau and partially ruptured the LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament) in the accident and has been in a race to regain full fitness ahead of the biggest competition of his life.
“My dad had a brain aneurysm that ruptured and post-surgery he suffered a major stroke,” explains Murphy of his father’s medical trauma. “He was in intensive care for a month and it was touch and go whether he’d make it. To see him that sick was hard to take.” Thankfully, his Auckland-based father is making progress. He has regained “a little bit of speech” and “got some movement back in the side of his body.”
Murphy – one of three New Zealand athletes selected for Sochi 2014 Paralympics – the others being Vancouver 2010 Paralympic gold medal winning skier Adam Hall and debutant sit-skier Corey Peters – suffered a massive jolt to his preparations with the knee injury. The athlete, who shares his time between Wanaka and Frisco, Colorado, has worked for three to four hours a day in the gym in an effort to accelerate the recovery process and returned to the snow earlier this month (February) after a seven-week period on the sidelines.
“It was a blow at the time to pick up the injury and it is obviously not ideal,” says Murphy, who will feature in the snowboard cross, which makes its debut appearance at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics. “All I can do is focus on what I need to do. I guess it would have been good to have raced at a World Cup level (in recent weeks) but they (my rivals) haven’t had the chance to see me either, so that probably works in my favour.” He continues, “The recovery is going well. I’m back on the snow and slowly building up and getting a feel for the snow. Every week I’ll be setting little milestones.”
Murphy started snowboarding regularly in his early 20s but only decided to start competing in 2007 – at the age of 27. “Just to see what was out there.” After winning the New Zealand national title in 2007 he decided to give the 2008 US Championships a crack and impressed, winning a silver and bronze in the giant slalom and slalom. Despite falling in his very first Snowboard cross race at that same competition he was hooked on the high speed event which combines the very best elements of both alpine and freestyle snowboarding.
In 2009 Murphy was selected for the NZ Snowboard team and quickly carved out a reputation as one of the world’s best in his discipline. Yet it was only after learning in May 2012 the sport had been included in the Winter Paralympics programme did his career take on a different shape.
“I was looking at maybe doing one more season before retiring, but the news changed my focus,” says Carl, whose son Oliver was born in early 2011. “I set some clear goals. It was to not only go to the (Sochi 2014 Paralympics) Games, but I was going to win.”
After the news broke of the sport’s inclusion in the Sochi 2014 Paralympics, Murphy quickly met up with Snow Sports NZ and High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) staff to organise a clear performance plan in the countdown to Sochi. Every element to his training and lifestyle was scrutinised in an effort to improve his chances of winning gold. His training-volume was sizably increased. Murphy’s nutritional intake was re-analysed, a clear medical programme introduced and he was given access to a sports psychologist. It was a demanding change for the architectural designer.
“The biggest problem I had was time management,” explains Murphy of the new regime. “I was trying to manage my training, family time and also work part time. I’m not really one to be organised. Aleisha, my wife, was like a manager to me in some ways. She had a diary and made sure I attended all my appointments.”
Over the past two years Carl has become a consistent winner of World Cup medals and last year he was crowned Snow Sports NZ Athlete of the Year. “He insists he has developed massively as a rider over the past 18 months with major gains being made on his psychological approach thanks to his work with HPSNZ mental skills trainer Peter Sanford.
“I do a lot more visualisation,” adds the New Plymouth raised snowboarder. “I visualise my race the night before and when I’m on the lift before runs, which makes everything so much clearer when I’m riding. Now everything seems to flow a lot better. I can make that connection between the body and the mind.”
Last year Murphy collected a bronze medal in the Test event in Sochi and he does not expect to be fazed by the conditions he is likely to face on his Winter Paralympics debut.
“It is similar to New Zealand in that it is quite humid and variable,” he explains. “We are used to that as Kiwis whereas the American riders are used to sunny days and quite dry snow.”
He says he is among “ten possible medallists’ on the day in which riders are timed over three runs with the top two runs contributing to an overall time which determine the medals. However, he insists the American trio of Evan Strong, Keith Gabel and Michael Shea will present his toughest challenge when the Games launch on March 7. “The three Americans and I have been battling for those podium positions over the past couple of seasons and we’ll all be jostling for that one spot,” adds Murphy whose wife, son and English-based mother will be attending the Games. “My eyes are still firmly on gold,” he adds. “That is what I’ve been pushing for the last 18 months. “I know my dad would say, ‘don’t worry about me just go and do what you have to do.’ So that reassured me, what I am doing is right.”
Carl Murphy – My Favourite things
Band – Pearl Jam
TV show – SKy Sport
App – Pandora
Piece of Kit – my leg
Food – Mexican
Drink – chocolate milk
Car – Audi
Piece of Clothing – cap
Rival – Mike Shea
Film – Team America
Other Sport – Fly Fishing