Christopher Murphy, Joseph Berenyi and Jennifer Schuble compete in the Mixed C1-5 750m Team Sprint Time Track Cycling on day 4 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Velodrome on September 11, 2016.
U.S. Paralympic cyclist Chris Murphy knew last spring that he had a special opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic was spreading around the world, leading to a cascade of race cancelations and the postponement of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 to next year.
Murphy, who competed in the 2016 Rio Games and won two world titles the next year on the track, saw that he would likely have a more open than usual schedule. It was a gift of time and space during a usually hectic Paralympic and world championships year, so he chose to make an investment in himself.
“I’m working on understanding and being a student of training, nutrition, all the things I was doing somewhat — but now I really know what is going on,” said Murphy, who is originally from Southern California but now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “My No. 1 goal has been to get outside, get more competitive, learn how to post more force, bigger gears, get faster.
“I’m not a pure sprinter, I’m still developing that side. But I am working on developing longer endurance stuff. I’m a good athlete, but not one of those great ones that just can show up and take the pursuit national championship. I’m putting in the honest effort to make myself bigger, stronger, better in every way. I want to go to Tokyo and medal. That’s the goal.”
Murphy, 36, has been posting strong results on the track this year. In late January and early February, before the pandemic spread to North America, he took silver in the time trial, bronze in the team sprint and top-10 finishes in the omnium, individual pursuit and scratch at the 2020 world championships in Milton, Ontario.
“I am absolutely seeing terrific change in myself, from where I was at the start of the year to where I am now,” he said. “I put the effort in, and I see the splits come back in great results. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I feel really confident about where things are and what I can do in Tokyo. I am putting it out there, and not being a jerk, I want to do this.
“It’s a lot of work, mentally and physically, but I have learned a lot. I am nearing the end of one training arc, and I’m going to start another arc in five weeks. I want to apply what I learn from each arc into the next one.”
In his Paralympic debut in Rio, Murphy finished just off the podium in fourth in the track team sprint, while crossing the line eighth in the track time trial and 10th in the road time trial.
He said he’s a much-improved cyclist over his first Paralympic experience, both physically and mentally. He has also chosen to help other Olympians and Paralympians by being part of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Mental Health Task Force. The group of 13 athletes, coaches and medical/mental health clinical professionals started in April.
Murphy’s competitive goals are clear: concentrating on pursuit, and winning medals in Tokyo. He may also be bringing a future main competitor onto Team USA by mentoring Para-cycling hopeful Bryan Larsen.
Both men have brachial plexus impairments, affecting their arms. Murphy has had his left arm impairment since birth, when complications resulted in permanent nerve damage, a condition known as Erb’s Palsy. Larsen, meanwhile, was an elite road and track cyclist before a crash in a 2019 road race injured his right arm.
Larsen now hopes to join Murphy on the Tokyo pursuit team and will be starting his Para career as soon as the race schedule resumes.
“I hope he becomes a great Para-cyclist, because that will be great for Team USA and me,” Murphy said. “He can push me, I can push him and together we can get even stronger — that would be such a good best case scenario.”