Justin Murphy never dreamed he would take home three silver medals for powerlifting at the state-level competition of the 2012 Special Olympics. “I was really surprised when I won the silver medals. I was just happy to be there,” says Murphy, the 26-year-old who placed second in his division.
Diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder at age 8 and Periventricular Leukomalacia at age 10 (more commonly summarized as High Functioning Autism), Murphy struggled with poor verbal and motor skills and constantly battled a severely short attention span. “School was really hard on him, but once he accepted what he couldn’t do and began to focus on what he could do, he became much happier,” says mom Nancy Murphy.
Murphy was first introduced to power lifting at age 10 in Abbeville, Alabama, where he met John Ingram, a power-lifting enthusiast who trained special-needs children for the Special Olympics. While Murphy was too young to compete, he still enjoyed
training at the gym.
When his family moved from Abbeville to Beauregard, Alabama, in 1998, Murphy laid aside his passion for powerlifting for a few years to nurture a new-found love for Auburn sports. The move to Auburn was a turning point for Murphy’s morale. “We started going to Auburn United Methodist Church, and I met my best friend, Casey Northcutt. We got to know each other and really
hit it off.”
The move to Auburn also brought friend and coach, Sam Edwards, into Murphy’s life. The two met while Murphy was working at the Auburn University bookstore and became closer through affiliations with FarmHouse Fraternity, for which Murphy’s dad, Lee, serves as advisor to members. “Justin pretty much knows everyone on campus,” says Edwards. “He is the easiest person to get to know because he genuinely cares about people and what’s going on in their lives. With his disability, it affects his coordination and ability to process information, but his social skills are elevated over normal people. He can’t do math problems, but he can remember what you told him about your dog three months ago.”
It was through Edwards that Murphy’s passion for powerlifting was rekindled. “We started working out together, and Sam talked me into joining Max Fitness,” explains Murphy. “Sam really got me out of my comfort zone. At first, Max Fitness was an intimidating place, but then I got my rhythm and started focusing on getting better, and things started clicking. I started feeling at home and like I was supposed to be there. Sam pushed me to see what all I could do then offered to train me for the Special Olympics.”
More than powerlifting and Auburn sports, Murphy lights up most when talking about family and friends, showing a sincere love and appreciation for both. “I got my work ethics from my dad. When I was a senior in high school, I got my first cell phone, and my dad told me I was going to pay for it. I appreciate that he taught me to work for stuff like that. When I have a family, I want to teach them the same thing,” says Murphy who has faithfully worked at Publix at Hamilton Place since opening in 2010.
Family and friends agree that Murphy’s greatest strength is his love for people and his enthusiastic interest in their lives. “I really don’t try to. It’s just how I am,” responds Murphy. “People seem to appreciate that I remember the details of their lives and that carries a long way in friendship. Family and friends are important to me. I try to encourage them to not be in such a rush, to slow down for a minute and enjoy the simple things of life.”