WHOOP User Chris Murphy: Trombonist to Para-Cycling Champion
“I knew I could do well in the 1K race but it didn’t occur to me that I could actually win. I posted a time I expected to be second best, but the guy going last was the favorite. When he finished off the podium I couldn’t believe it. I was like ‘Holy crap, what just happened?’ My team started swamping me, I was in disbelief. It was the most amazing and unexpected moment–just pure excitement.”
– Chris Murphy on winning gold at the 2017 Para-cycling Track World Championships
When he was a child, Chris Murphy’s mother didn’t allow him to play sports because of a brachial plexus injury he sustained at birth that gave him permanent nerve damage in his left arm. “I was almost too big for my mom when I was born,” Murphy told WHOOP. “I was 11 pounds 9 ounces and almost 2 feet tall. She was a 5-foot nothing little Asian women. I got stuck behind her pelvic bone during the birthing process. In order to get me out the doctor had to pull on my head, which stretched and permanently damaged the brachial plexus nerve bundle that leads into my arm.”
“The major consequences are lack of strength, range of motion and sensation,” he explained. “By my own estimate, I’ve got about 25 percent of what would be considered normal. For example, as far as lifting a weight, for a bicep curl I can do maybe 5 pounds. I can’t lift anything over my head and I can’t reach behind my back with my left arm.”
With athletics off the table, Murphy turned to music: “It was just kind of a relief for me. My mom wouldn’t let me play sports because of my arm, so I did music instead. That’s kind of where I learned how to be a high-level person in general. I went to Cal State Fullerton and got a degree in trombone performance there. I was pretty successful for my age in that area and when I graduated I had an opportunity to start working at Disneyland as a musician.”
However, after several years as a professional musician the competitor in Murphy knew he wouldn’t be able to reach his full potential as a trombonist:
“Complications from my arm prevented me from really performing my best on the trombone. My affected arm was the one that carries the weight of the instrument. I started doing some brachial plexus research online after I began feeling some overuse injuries in my good arm. It was also around that time that I discovered cycling as a means to commute to and from various part time jobs. I happened to randomly come across an article about an Australian para-cyclist who was a world-record holder on the track with a similar brachial plexus injury. I thought to myself ‘Oh, I didn’t know that existed, I’m going to try that!’ In 2013 I learned to ride the track in L.A. and I started competing shortly after.”
Today, Murphy is a full-time resident of Colorado Springs, CO, where he trains at the U.S. Olympic facility. Last month, both Murphy (pictured below with his right arm raised) and his three-man relay team won gold medals at the world championships.
“The team gold was a little more meaningful to me,” Murphy said. “We’d finished 4th in the past 4 major world competitions [last year’s Olympics in Rio and the previous 3 world championships]. It was really frustrating to finish just off the podium so many times in a row. But then we switched up the combinations a bit this year and ended up winning it. It was really satisfying because I’d wanted it for so long. To win as a team as well was even more enjoyable. It was the best feeling in the world.”
When asked when he first discovered WHOOP, Murphy remembered the exact date. “It was January 9th of this year,” he said. “I was flying to the national team camp and listening to the Ben Greenfield podcast [with WHOOP founder Will Ahmed] on the plane. When we landed I checked out the website and decided to order it right then and there.”
The Sleep analysis is what Murphy enjoys most about his WHOOP Strap:
Jokingly, Murphy added “It also allows me to tell my girlfriend ‘I need to go to sleep at this time.’ But in all seriousness, it’s helped me a lot to make better decisions and be more honest with myself. The questions that the app asks every day help keep me accountable. The fact that I have to type in when I look at a screened device before bed every day makes me realize I sleep better if I put my phone down. I’ve noticed my sleep has improved when I stop doing that.”
Murphy is also a big fan of the manner in which WHOOP tracks heart rate variability: “Another feature that I really like about WHOOP is that it measures HRV while I’m sleeping. My HRV is one of the numbers that I look at every day. WHOOP helps me understand the training process and gives me confidence when I need to train hard and recover. It helps me understand that I’m putting the work in in the proper way.”
Let’s hope his mother agrees.