The Warsaw Community High School boys cross country coach is definitely not alone in that regard.
Murphy, who was diagnosed at age three with autism, has inspired many with his amazing athletic accomplishments over the last several years.
A mix of hard work and perseverance on his part coupled with a tremendous amount of support from a host of people, led by his parents Jeff and Lynn, have made for an incredible journey for Murphy.
Mills remembers where Murphy was at as a freshman to where the senior standout is now. Murphy is part of Warsaw’s “Big Three”, teaming with senior Jacob Poyner and junior Ellis Coon, to give the No. 5 Tigers arguably the state’s top 1-2-3 punch.
“Robert is a tremendous example of what you can do when you put your mind to it,” said Mills. “In my 25 years of being involved with the sport, there’s not a greater story than Robert’s.
“When Robert first came out he was this skinny, introverted kid who would not look you in the face. I would have told you then that I would have been happy if Robert was still on our team as a senior. Now, he could end up being All-State this season. That’s incredible.
“He’s a different person. Robert’s Robert, but he’s so easy to coach. I never worry about Robert at all during a race. I don’t even have to pay attention to him. I know that he’ll be where we expect him to at the end of the race and there he always is.”
Murphy, who moved to Warsaw from Wisconsin when he was five, has done some unbelievable things since starting to run competitively in eighth grade. His top time as a freshman was 20:00. He ran 17:05 as a sophomore to earn team Most Improved honors and 16:40 last year in earning All-NLC honors. He also helped the Tigers place 15th at the State Finals in 2011 in the program’s first trip to State in 21 years, by placing 76th overall in 16:55. Murphy, who hopes to run in college at possibly Huntington University or Vincennes University, was sectional champion in the 3,200 in the spring for coach Matt Thacker’s track team and was named Most Improved. He ran a 16:10 in the first 5K race of this his final high school season for the Tigers.
Murphy’s teammates have found plenty to love about the young man who has also overcome a stress fracture in his foot during his freshman season to become “Mr. Consistency” for the Tiger program.
“Robert’s been like a brother to us,” said the very talented Poyner, the No. 1 runner for the Tigers. “It’s just a thrill to have him around all the time. He loves the sport and he just does his job.”
Poyner, who was 42nd overall at State in 2011 in a time of 16:30, ironically shares the same birthday with his teammate as both were born on July 15, 1994.
“He is like a brother to me and we joke that we are twins,” said Poyner, cracking a smile. “There’s really something great about someone in his position doing what he’s done. It’s just been a thrill to watch and to be his friend.”
Brysten James, one of 17 seniors on Mills’ deep and talented team, has known Murphy since elementary school.
“He’s changed so much and is really a different person,” said James. “He’s just a big goofball. He’s just so funny and so random. He’s really just a great guy.
“He’s inspired a lot of us with what he’s done. The progress he’s made has been inspiring. I know it would be totally different without him on the team. He’s a good friend.”
Murphy has some simple, yet sound, advice for those who want to succeed as he has done.
“You just have to come to practice and work hard,” said Murphy, who enjoys playing video games and acting when not running. “You just have to do it.”
“Running the longer distances is much more relaxing,” added Murphy, who started out by running sprints in middle school. “I’ve improved a lot since I started. I don’t focus too much on my times. I focus on place. I’m usually not too surprised by my times because I’m pretty consistent.”Murphy’s parents say being part of the WCHS cross country program has been a godsend for their youngest of two sons. Robert had intensive behavioral therapy when he was 3 1/2 as part of the Wisconsin Early Autism Project. The therapy was six hours a day, six days a week for a year.
“We were thrilled when Robert started running,” said his mother Lynn. “We were glad he was part of a group and found a niche from a social aspect. It’s unbelievable how much faster he’s gotten as a runner.”
“It’s just been so comforting and reassuring the support he’s received. The support from everyone in this community, from his teammates to his coaches to his teachers to people at our church (Warsaw EPC), has made it possible for him to achieve what he has. He’s worked hard. But, our blessing here have been unbelievable since we moved here. I know God’s been with us every step of the way.”
Murphy’s father Jeff, who himself ran at Hillsdale College in Michigan (where he met Lynn), became understandably emotional when talking about sharing the sport he also loves with his son.
“It’s just been overwhelming to see,” said Jeff, wiping away the tears. “God gave me the gift of running too and it’s something that helped me fit in too when I was younger. Robert has a lot of energy and we tried all kinds of outlets for him from soccer to dance to tumbling.
“At first, he was no way on cross country. But then he ran in the Lakeview triathlon they have at school and he loved it. When I took him to coach Mills to run cross country, I didn’t think that he was going to be very good. I’m really glad I was wrong about that. He’s proof that hard work creates opportunities.”
“They have a great team and it’s so neat to see. They’ve been so great to Robert and so great for him. Jake (Jacob Poyner) is just a special guy. Robert would not be where he is without Jake.
“I’ve come to appreciate coach Mills for his expertise and knowledge. He’s a great coach for all these guys. I’m really impressed with him and the school is lucky to have him.”
Lynn says the message behind her son’s amazing run to success is a simple one.
“Don’t ever give up on your kids no matter what,” said Lynn. “Encourage them to have dreams and then do everything you can to help them reach their dreams.”