At some point in life, all are going to deal with adversity. For retired Army Staff Sgt. Luke Murphy that moment began in 2006, near the end of his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Murphy, who delivered Troy University’s 25th Helen Keller Lecture on Thursday before a crowd of students and special guests in the Claudia Crosby Theater, was leading a Reconnaissance Team on an operation in Baghdad in April 2006, when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by an explosive device. The force of the explosion resulted in the traumatic amputation of his right leg above the knee and severely injured his left leg as well.
“I felt a tremendous amount of pain and burning,” he said. “The Humvee was on fire and we were rolling down the road, 30 miles an hour, and I see the driver pumping the brakes but nothing is happening. I yell over to him to crash the truck because I knew we had to get out of there. He crashes the vehicle into the wall, we go half of the way through the wall and stop.”
Once stopped, Murphy was able to knock the door of the vehicle off its hinges and get out.
“I literally felt myself begin to drift off, and I saw a vision of my mother crying at my funeral,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to do that to her,’ so I fought like hell to stay awake.”
Murphy would spend the next 24 hours in emergency care, receiving blood and treatment for his traumatic wounds. He would later be transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he would undergo 32 surgeries and extensive physical therapy in the years following his injury.
As part of his rehabilitation, Murphy began competing in marathons, traveling across the globe with the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans. He was also recruited to serve on the National Campaign Team for the Wounded Warrior Project. NCT members share their stories to raise awareness for the most recently injured servicemen and women while serving as an example of the successes one can achieve after injury. He’s helped start philanthropies that allow wounded soldiers and service members to enjoy the outdoors, including hunting and fishing, through arrangements that accommodate their unique disabilities.
Following his recovery, Murphy returned to college, graduating with a degree in political science with a minor in communications from Florida State University in 2011. He went on to earn his real estate license and became a partner with Southern Land Realty, specializing in large tracts of acreage and farmland. He also co-wrote his memoir, “Blasted by Adversity: The Making of a Wounded Warrior.”
It is that message of facing and overcoming adversity that Murphy brought especially to TROY students on Thursday.
“We all have a story in life and our stories are important and can be impactful to others,” he said. “Sometimes through hearing about someone else’s struggle, we can find tools that will be helpful to us in managing our own struggles. We are all going to deal with adversity in life. I think it is a true test of one’s character in how you respond. We all get knocked down; we all need to be resilient. There are certain tools you can apply to get through things. For some people it is faith, for some it’s family, for others it’s not wanting to let others down. It is important to push through in life even when you face those moments of difficulty.”
Coming on the eve of Veterans Day, Murphy said he hoped that students would pause to acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many in service to this country.
“I was tasked with protecting voting sites in Iraq, and they would shoot at people who would come to vote,” he recalled. “But those people would still come and still cast that vote. Just take a moment on Veterans Day and acknowledge the sacrifices that are made for the freedoms we enjoy and be grateful for them.”
The Helen Keller Lecture Series, which began in 1995 as the vision of Dr. and Mrs. Jack Hawkins, Jr., was initiated to call attention to and raise awareness of the challenges of those with physical limitations, particularly those affecting sensory ability. Through the years, the lecture has also provided the opportunity to highlight those who have devoted their careers to meeting the needs of the sensory impaired and to celebrate the collaborative efforts and partnerships of Troy University and the agencies and individuals who serve these special individuals.
This year’s lecture was sponsored by the Alabama Institute for Deaf & Blind, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama State Department of Education and the Helen Keller Foundation.