Paralympian Chris Murphy Celebrates His Retirement From Competitive Cycling
by Paul D. Bowker
Chris Murphy’s farewell individual race at the UCI Cycling World Championships last month produced an unforgettable moment.
Impressively enough, the two-time Paralympian won his ninth career world championships medal, a silver, in the 1-kilometer time trial MC5 race in Glasgow, Scotland.
“That’s huge,” Murphy said. “Getting on the podium ever in my category at worlds, any category really. Getting on the podium is not an easy thing to do.”
But then, on that awards podium, Murphy was greeted by Belgium cyclist Niels Verschaeren, who finished in third place to capture his first world medal and stand alongside an American cyclist he has admired for years.
“And I had no idea,” Murphy said. “He was just like super stoked to be on the podium with me. His first world podium and my last world podium. Kind of poetic. In that regard, I thought that was super cool. He’s a super cool guy, too. It’s been really good to see him just get faster.”
They talked and they hugged.
“That’s part of why I feel accomplished in my career,” Murphy said. “OK, if I helped inspire this guy to become a faster bike rider, that’s rad. I love that.”
Murphy, an eight-time world team member in track cycling, announced his retirement from competitive racing prior to this year’s world championships at age 38.
“It was just time,” he said. “I always felt when I was competing that I would know when it was time to hang it up.”
Beyond his nine world medals and Paralympic Games stops in Rio and Tokyo, the legacy Murphy hoped to leave was one of helping the sport and his fellow riders.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve been a big contributor toward the evolution of the sport,” said Murphy, who has nerve damage in his neck and arm due to a brachial plexus injury at birth. “Pushing some of the top guys to do their best, you know. I just feel like I’ve played my part in helping raise the level of the sport and just showing what you can do with quite a bit of hard work and dedication.”
Among those he pushed to high levels was U.S. teammate Justin Widhalm, whose last international race before retiring last year was a team sprint with Murphy at the 2022 world championships. The two are close friends and competitors.
“I’ve never had such a supportive friend and teammate,” Murphy said. “We can turn it on and compete with each other and push each other, and then turn it off and just make some jokes, have a good time.”
The two were roommates on the road and often competed against each other. Instead of competition driving them apart, it actually brought them closer. One day, Widhalm said, he approached Murphy with an apology: “Dude, I’ve been a horrible teammate and a horrible friend, and I hope that you can forgive me. When we do this, when I’m going faster, you’re going faster; when you’re going faster, I’m going faster.”
Those were the relationships that helped drive Murphy and also motivated him for this year’s world championships, which for the first time united Para athletes with able-bodied cyclists in all disciplines. After the track events were done and the second half of the championships transitioned to the road events, Murphy went out on the streets to watch his friends in the road competition.
“Just to see everybody there,” Murphy said. “Everybody shows up at worlds in the best shape. In my opinion, the pinnacle of competition. Everybody was logistically there. I can see my competitors and comrades in arms from other countries, see them off one last time.”
For Murphy, a Southern California native, this all started years ago with a traffic jam on the way to a part-time job in Los Angeles.
“I just remember sitting in traffic one day and a guy on a tri-bike just goes past me in the bike lane and I never see him again,” Murphy said. “I just remember thinking, that’s like you can get exercise and you’re not wasting your life sitting in a car.”
Murphy didn’t waste any more time.
“That weekend, went to a bike shop and bought a road bike. Started commuting,” he said. “I just kind of fell in love with it just by doing that.”
Murphy made the U.S. Paralympics Cycling national team for the first time in 2014 and competed in his first world championship that same year. Two years later in Rio, he made his Paralympic debut and finished among the top 10 in three events, including fourth in the team sprint.
Along the way, he has traded those crowded Los Angeles highways for the beauty of Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is home to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. Bike riding remains on his priority list.
“Riding my bike for a couple hours on a beautiful Colorado morning. Some of that fills my soul,” Murphy said. “I’ve been riding since I got back (from Scotland) for fun and the enjoyment of it. The health benefits of it is part of what I enjoy, too.”
Murphy has helped instruct and coach a “Learn to Race” class held at the velodrome in Colorado Springs and is employed as information specialist with the Rocky Mountain ADA Center in Colorado Springs.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” he said. “Kind of how smooth that transition is because I understand that a lot of athletes don’t necessarily have a straightforward transition from their athletic career to post-athletic career.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.