To say that Rohan Murphy is strong would be an understatement: With his brawny shoulders, arms and chest, the East Islip, N.Y. man can bench press three times his own body weight and was a star wrestler in high school and college.
Murphy, 26, is such a magnificent physical specimen, you can almost forget the one thing that truly sets him apart: He has no legs.
Murphy was born with birth defects so severe -- he was missing a hip joint on his right side and half a joint on the other -- that, at age 4, his legs were amputated.
It wasn't easy growing up. Sometimes he wore prosthetic legs just to look more like his peers.
"I think, when you're a kid, you just want to be just like all your friends," he said, "And, unfortunately, I couldn't be like all my friends. ... I remember those days after hearing the ninth period bell ring, and all my friends are saying, 'I'll talk to you later, I'm going to soccer practice,' 'I'll see you later, I'm going to football practice,' and there I was, with nowhere to go."
Gym teacher and wrestling coach Ron Croteau helped change that. In middle school, Murphy was placed in Croteau's adaptive gym class.
"He enjoyed the sports and just athletics in general. … One day before you know it, I had him doing pull-ups in class," Croteau said
Croteau was blown away when Murphy removed his heavy prosthetic limbs and proceeded to break the school record for pull-ups, completing 40 reps. Croteau saw potential in Murphy, and asked him to be a sports team manager -- the first steps in the coach's grand plan.
As the coach of the East Islip High School wrestling team, Croteau talked Murphy into joining the junior varsity team.
Success in wrestling wasn't immediate, and after Murphy's first loss as a freshman, Croteau was heartbroken.
"When he lost, I felt it. I said, 'What did I do here?'" he said.
But Murphy's dedication to the sport was just beginning. The next summer, Murphy would wheel himself 3.5 miles to and from his high school's weight room to lift weights.
"I would just hop in my wheelchair every day, off to the school, get a good workout in, roll back home," he said.
By his sophomore year, Murphy excelled at wrestling. At just 96 pounds, he qualified for the lowest weight class but, when it came to strength, he was far from a lightweight -- and that gave him an advantage over his comparably scrawny rivals.
"I always viewed my disability before I started to wrestle as a negative, but once I started to wrestle, it became a positive," he said.
It was on the wrestling mat that Murphy found what eluded him elsewhere: acceptance.
"That was the best part -- the team camaraderie," he said. "It was like a second family."
Murphy credits the sport of wrestling to turning around his life. "The more I excelled in wrestling, the more I excelled in life, whether it was socially or academically in school," he said. "Wrestling just took me to another level in my life."
Murphy went on to wrestle at Penn State University, where he electrified college crowds on and off the mat. Aware of the impact of Murphy's story, Penn State Wrestling coach, Troy Sunderland, convinced Murphy to speak about his experience to kids attending a summer sports camp, where he wowed the kids with his strength and physique.