An Interview with Michael Murphy
You set up an awareness campaign in 2013 called 'Fighting Fit For Ewing’s' (FFFE). Can you tell us a little bit about FFFE and why you set it up?
Fighting Fit For Ewing’s is a campaign designed to raise awareness for Ewing’s Sarcoma which is a rare form of bone cancer that effected me in my teenage years. The second purpose of the campaign is to highlight the importance of exercise for rehabilitation. I use physical challenges or adventure activities to do this as I have discovered a love for adventure. I was informed by consultants in 2013 that I would remain on crutches permanently and on hearing this news I decided to use my situation to my advantage and have a little fun along the way!
What has been your favourite and most rewarding challenge to date?
My most rewarding challenge was probably my first one. We climbed Muckish mountain. When I tell this story I am aware that for many people, climbing Muckish is not exactly a challenge, but when you add two crutches and two hip replacements into the mix, well, things can get interesting! I loved this activity as it was a great way to learn a lot in a short space of time. I was accompanied by two experienced climbers, Michael Black and Pat McDermott but that didn’t stop us from getting lost! I was very lucky to be with the guys as I know if I had have been with anyone else I would have panicked a little. The weather worsened dramatically as we climbed and by the time we reached the top visibility was very poor. Despite the weather I loved every minute of it and I would do it again in the same conditions.
You’ve been getting a great response from people from all over the world. It must be a phenomenal feeling knowing that you’re helping people?
It is the reason I will continue with my campaign for years to come. Sometimes I get a little disheartened and wonder if I am doing the right thing by putting so much time and energy into it. I wonder if anyone is benefitting. I almost always receive an email shortly after having these doubts that confirms I am most definitely doing the right thing. I recently received a message from a young man in China who had been diagnosed with a form of sarcoma. He was an Oxford student who flew back to China for treatment. When he did a little research online he found my campaign and website and shared his story with me. That was a ‘wow’ moment for me. To think that someone as far away as China could reach out to me is all the motivation I need to keep going with the campaign.
You offer motivational and training talks. Can you give us an insight to the type of topics that you cover and the type of events that you have you spoken at recently?
My talks range depending on the audience. I have developed a talk called #LookAtMe which is aimed primarily at teenage girls. In saying that, this talk has been adapted to suit other audiences too. The main topic covered with #LookAtMe is self confidence. I use my own experiences with cancer as a teen to help them realise that we all have self doubt and body hang ups etc.. I hope to leave each girl with a feeling of ‘Well, if she can do it so can I!’ I have been lucky to have spoken at some truly inspirational events. One that stands out for me was when I addressed a crowd of 1000 people in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. I was invited to lead a walk in aid of the Light It Up Gold campaign in September. Afterwards I spoke to the attendees who were entirely made up of parents and children affected by cancer, some of whom were still receiving treatment. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as my talk had to be suitable for a varied audience so it was like a mini challenge of sorts! I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to speak to such an inspiring audience.
You were the first woman to abseil from the iconic Fanad Lighthouse. How did that experience feel?
It felt amazing! It took a little time to organise that challenge as I had to speak with Irish Lights head office in Dun Laoghaire. The extra work was worth it once I stood on the top of the lighthouse and looked out over the sea. I took a moment to reflect on how far I had come both personally and professionally. When I stepped out over the edge a flicker of self doubt crept into my mind. Had I taken on too much with this challenge? Could I actually do it? I looked up at Iain Miller, the man behind the best abseils in Ireland, and I decided there and then that I would go ahead regardless of fear. Once I got out over the lip of the lighthouse it was smooth sailing. When I reached the ground I felt fantastic! I did the abseil three times in total and each time was exhilarating.
Where do you find the motivation to keep going?
Honestly, I don’t give myself the option to not keep going. I think once you allow yourself to think negatively about your situation you let thoughts creep in that will ultimately bring you down. The only person that will suffer from your attitude is you. Others will sympathise but at the end of the day your life and how you choose to live it is down to you. While on holidays in Australia I found myself in hospital for six weeks while surgeons removed an infected hip prosthesis. Shortly after my operation I received news from Ireland that my grandmother had died. On hearing this news I had one of two options open to me. I could throw in the towel and decide that life was truly unfair and I had been put through too much to cope with. OR, I could decide that from that day forward, I would take each and every set back in my stride. I would use each setback as an opportunity to learn something new about myself and become a stronger person as a result. Thankfully I chose the latter option!
What are your plans for the future?
My future will hopefully involve many new and exciting adventures. I am aiming to set a world record next year that will test every ounce of my strength and there is also talk of a trip to Iceland to climb a glacier. I willbe meeting with people to organise sponsorship for that one, if anyone out there wishes to help me please get in touch. I believe that the sky is the limit for future plans. Regardless of the future of my leg, I am confident that my spirit will remain strong. I become more determined to succeed with each set back and I think going to Iceland will prove that. Walking on ice with crutches will not be easy. Walking on my kitchen floor with crutches can be a struggle at the best of times! I am excited to see what 2016 has in store for me.
What are your top five tips for anyone looking for a new challenge in 2016?
1. Do your research.
The biggest mistake that people can make is choosing a challenge without knowing anything about it. Reality will quickly set in once you begin the challenge.
2. Make sure you speak with professionals in the area of your chosen challenge.
If possible, recruit some professionals to accompany you. My abseiling challenge simply would not have gone ahead without Iain Miller. I would never attempt to do something like that without consulting with an expert. If there is an element of danger attached to your challenge it is vital to speak to the right people.
3. Take some time to work out why you want to challenge yourself.
If you are thinking of setting a challenge for 2016, take a moment to work out why. Is it for health reasons? Self satisfaction? To prove a point to someone?! Work out why and it will keep you on track during the tougher stages.
4. Get Training!
If your chosen challenge is a physical one, make sure you are fit enough to actually do it. When I climbed Muckish I was fit-ish... my upper body strength has improved over time due to regular training in my local gym. Having the strength to complete the challenge is key!
5. Chose an activity you enjoy.
If you are about to embark on an adventure, especially one that will test your mental/physical strength, make sure you enjoy the activity. For example, if you hate climbing mountains then don’t organise a trip to Mont Blanc! It sounds obvious but you would be surprised how easily it can happen. You agree to something without thinking it through and then realise half way through that you hate it. Your main aim is to enjoy yourself. It should not be a punishment, more of a treat to yourself.
Good luck to everyone taking on a 2016 challenge. Please get in touch and I will share your story on my Facebook page.
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