BETHEL — On a September evening in 2010, Matt Murphy sat down with Woody Hughes at the bar in the Mill Hill Inn. Hughes had just opened the inn and was enjoying a quiet night with an old friend.
At some point, they got to talking about Murphy’s son Troy, who was pursuing a berth on the U.S. men’s moguls ski team.
“How much does it cost for you guys to do this?” asked Hughes.
“About $30,000 a year,” replied Murphy.
“And it’s all on you guys?” asked Hughes.
“Yep,” said Murphy. “Until he makes the U.S.A. team.”
“Then,” said Hughes, “let’s try to get him there.”
From that night on, the town of Bethel, Sunday River ski resort and Gould Academy pulled together to raise the money that helped Troy Murphy land a berth in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Murphy was one of four skiers named to the U.S. men’s moguls team, which opens Olympic competition with qualifying rounds Thursday night.
Matt Murphy and Hughes brainstormed into the night to find ways to defray the costs Troy Murphy was facing while he worked his way up the national team ladder. Those included training, travel to competition events in North America and Europe, accommodations and entry fees. Once a skier reaches the A team, those expenses are covered.
First they held an auction – the early ones were intimate gatherings at the Mill Hill Inn for which Hughes would bake lasagna. Two years later, they added a golf tournament at the Bethel Inn. The two events have grown so much since 2010 – about 40 golfers participated in the first tournament, over 90 in 2017 – that Troy Murphy was able to donate $6,000 to the Sunday River Ski and Snowboard Club after last year’s event.
Nancy Murphy, Troy’s mother, has said it took a village to get her son to the Olympics. Troy Murphy, 25, said it was much more than that.
“It almost feels like a city, not a village, because so many people helped me,” he said. “It’s the Bethel community, it’s the Gould Academy community, it’s the Sunday River community, it’s the greater Maine community, it’s the greater New England community. It’s crazy how many people have helped me. . . . It’s actually kind of surreal.”
Asked if he could have gotten this far without the help, Murphy answered emphatically, “No, definitely not.”
‘TROY HANDLES ADVERSITY WELL’
When it came to sports, Troy Murphy took to nontraditional ventures. He especially likes dirt biking. “He actually learned to ride a motorcycle before he learned to ride a bike,” his dad said.
When Troy was 10, Jeff Yingling, then the freestyle skiing coach at Gould, joined the Murphys for some dirt biking. Yingling was impressed with Troy’s skills, convinced they would translate well to moguls. Murphy was skiing at the time, but his parents hoped Yingling could harness his talent. Within two weeks, all of Murphy’s energy and focus went into moguls.
Matt Murphy, an IT Tech at Gould Academy, built a rope tow on the hill in his backyard where Troy and his friends would ski at night. The boys built the jumps themselves and practiced backflips. Matt Murphy put lights in the trees and played music. “The kids would be out there at 10, 11 o’clock at night,” he said.
Troy Murphy slowly progressed before he burst onto the scene in 2014, when he almost made the U.S. team for the Sochi Olympics. He would finish the 2014 season as the international ski federation’s Rookie of the Year. He had four top-10 finishes in 2015. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, he bounced back a year ago with six top-10 finishes and was ranked sixth in the world. This year, he earned his first World Cup podium when he placed third in China in mid-December.
Even though he has struggled at times, he is considered a medal contender for the U.S.
“Troy handles adversity well,” said Matt Gnoza, the U.S. moguls coach. “Whether he falls or has a mishap on a run, he recognizes what the big picture is and what the big plan is. He’s known for quite some time what he has to do.”
To get to this point, Murphy’s parents had to pay a price. Once Troy graduated from Gould Academy in 2010, he was traveling to Europe or Alaska or Canada or Australia to train and ski. Those costs fell to the family.
“It wasn’t easy, but we made it OK,” said Nancy Murphy, who works several part-time jobs in the health field. “We figured out what we needed to do to keep him going. We would just live simply.”
TURNS OUT, EVERYONE WANTED TO HELP
Then Matt Murphy met with Hughes, and the fundraising began. While many expenses were eased, the family still had to raise money for Troy’s living expenses after he moved to Park City, Utah, to train. The proceeds were put into a skiing fund the family set up. Not once, though, did he or his family ever get discouraged.
Gnoza said the fundraising made Murphy a better person – and probably a better skier.“Never,” said Shelby Caret, Troy’s girlfriend of the last eight years. “Not once, in all the time I’ve been around them, has the conversation been, ‘I don’t know if I can ever do this again.’ It was always about doing the next one.”
“It helps you recognize what you’re trying to do,” he said. “It kept him grounded. … At the end of the day he needs that support from the community and he takes a lot of pride in it.”
Since 2015, Murphy has been represented by Octagon, a world-class sports agency with an office in South Portland. Among his corporate sponsors are Norway Savings Bank, Sunday River, Columbia, Oakley and ID One (skis).
But the fundraising brought on a new kind of pressure, Nancy Murphy said.
“It was absolutely a relief and a huge help,” she said. “On the other hand, it was hard. Year after year, it was hard to ask people time and time again to help our kid.”
Turns out, everyone wanted to help.
‘HE’S WELL-LIKED BY EVERYONE’
Troy Murphy was one of theirs. He was a good student at Gould Academy, a small private college-prep school in Bethel. He grew up in their ski programs.
“That’s the thing,” said Nick Albert, vice president of sales and marketing at Sunday River. “We have such a close relationship with Troy. He’s grown up here. He’s well-liked by everyone. It’s unique. Everyone has been rooting for him for years.”
Sunday River now hosts his auction, normally held in late December. That first auction, said Hughes, “people were overpaying for everything … there was an excitement in the air.”
There still is. In late January, the World Cup came to Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. A group of nearly 40 from Gould Academy drove 270 miles or so to cheer him on. “We all want Troy to win,” Hughes said. “But we’re there because of his character.”
Andrew Bishop, the director of admissions at Gould, said Murphy’s humility is what sets him apart from many athletes.
“Troy is the epitome of what we want our Gould Academy students to be,” he said. “He’s an incredible person, first and foremost, smart and talented and someone who has followed his dreams.”
Troy Murphy still keeps in touch with the Gould community.
“He calls our students that are on-snow athletes and mogul skiers who break a collarbone, just to check in on them and say, ‘How are you doing? Keep your chin up, I’ve been there,’ ” Bishop said.
Gould Academy has stepped up for Troy’s parents. The school bought the Murphys tickets to attend the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies on Friday. The Murphys will attend the Winter Games with Caret and two other guests.
“They’ve sacrificed a lot,” Bishop said. “As a school, we can sacrifice a little too, show we’re all in this together.”
‘HE BROUGHT THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER’
“It’s not easy hitting the pavement and generating extra dollars for a golf tournament,” Jerome said. “But every hole is filled with signed sponsors. Families. Businesses.Everyone pulls together, said Brad Jerome, the director of sales and marketing at the Bethel Inn, where the golf tournament is held. Businesses sponsor holes or carts, or perhaps donate gifts for an auction at the tournament. He said the Murphys, especially Troy, work hard to make it successful.
“We make mention of them during the award ceremony. They’re here for promotional mentions, but they’re here to help Troy. These people really want to help Troy and the mission he’s on.”
In addition to fundraising, Murphy also received help from the Level Field Fund, a grant program founded by snowboarder Ross Powers that provides financial aid to up-and-coming, self-funded athletes.
And Troy Murphy is grateful. That’s why last year, after figuring out how much money he needed from the proceeds of the golf tournament, he donated $6,000 to the Sunday River ski club.
“I’m just glad I was able to give back,” he said. “Hopefully it can go back to some young skiers and help them follow their path.”
“That’s Troy,” said Dan Gray, the president of the Sunday River Ski and Snowboard Club. “First chance he gets he gives back a chunk of change to the club to give back to kids who need help to do what they love to do.
“People talk about the community helping Troy. To me, he brought the community together around him and gave the community a reason to be around him.”
He, and his family, want the fundraising to continue long after Troy doesn’t need it anymore.
“It will continue,” said Matt Murphy. “When he’s done with it, he’ll pass it along to someone else and help other young athletes coming through.”
Sunday River hopes to hold a viewing party, especially if Murphy gets to the finals, though the 14-hour time difference from South Korea could make for some creative viewing and eating/drinking choices. If he makes the finals, it will be at 7 a.m. Monday. Albert, the Sunday River vice president, is certain that people will show up.
“It all comes back to this,” he said. “Troy is the kid everybody likes and everybody loves to help.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or: