Former UNC Star, Stabbing Survivor Sends Message of Resilience

PHOTO COURTESY OF LIL’ BALLERS LACROSSE

Peter Murphy, a youth and high school lacrosse coach in Chicago and former North Carolina defenseman, survived a near-fatal stabbing in April 1997 that cut short his playing career.


As the lacrosse community mourns its lost season, high school seniors in particular are feeling the pain. Denied rites of passage like prom and graduation day, they also lost the opportunity to write their own endings on the field of competition.

But as Latin School of Chicago boys’ lacrosse coach Peter Murphy wrote in a letter to his seniors, “Everything is relative.”

Murphy should know. Twenty-three years ago, in the middle of his senior season for the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team, he nearly died after he was stabbed in the abdomen with a pocket knife during a fight outside a night club in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Hospitalized for 10 days, Murphy lost 50 pounds and could barely walk. He was but a shadow of the All-American defenseman whose 192 career takeaways rank third all-time at UNC.

“As I was lying in a hospital bed in the days after being stabbed, my emotions were all over the place, from frustration to anger to regret to sadness,” Murphy wrote in the letter, which appears in its entirety below. He hoped it would help provide perspective for those who are hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. “It was a difficult time for me. I had to figure out how I was going to respond. Was I going to act like a victim or fight to get back to where I wanted to be?”

Murphy, 45, has undergone 20 surgeries since the stabbing. It has not kept him off the lacrosse field. Although his playing career ended prematurely, Murphy is a highly successful coach. A Long Island native, he returned to his alma mater as the defensive coordinator for the 2000 New York state champion Garden City boys’ lacrosse team.

Murphy’s career in equity sales trading brought him to Chicago, where he has rekindled his passion for the sport. In addition to his coaching role at Latin School, Murphy is a national team coach and director for True Lacrosse. In 2018 he founded Lil’ Ballers Lacrosse, a Chicago-based youth lacrosse organization that offers 3-on-3 leagues, camps and clinics for boys and girls.

Murphy, a US Lacrosse Coach Development Program Level 2-certified coach, has also volunteered for Outreach with Lacrosse and Schools (OWLS), a program for at-risk youth in Chicago.

The letter below has been edited only for consistency with US Lacrosse Magazine style and guidelines.







Letter to the Team
By Peter Murphy

Team,

Spring lacrosse seasons across youth and high school have officially been canceled. I know how incredibly disappointed you all must be, especially the seniors. On top of the deflation that comes with a lost season, I am sure we have all experienced a wide range of emotions as a result of being separated from friends and classmates.

With that, I thought it would be helpful to share my story, in hopes that you benefit from my experience and perspective.

When I was close to your age, I lacked some of the coping skills needed to deal with my senior year ending abruptly. Yes, my school year, lacrosse season and college career at the University  of North Carolina were all cut short. For me, it wasn’t COVID-19 and quarantine. It was getting stabbed three times in the stomach and nearly dying.

As I was lying in a hospital bed in the days after being stabbed, my emotions were all over the place, from frustration to anger to regret to sadness. It was a difficult time for me. I had to figure out how I was going to respond. Was I going to act like a victim or fight to get back to where I wanted to be?

I chose the latter, and after 10 days of battling in the hospital, I earned my release. I was 50 pounds lighter. I still had a draining hole in my stomach to release fluids. I could barely walk upright. But I was on the road to recovery.

Unbeknownst to me, this would be a long and winding road. My medical journey was just beginning. Over the next 22 years, I would have 20 surgeries, eight stomach-related. So it is a good thing I was ready to fight. With me at each turn was a great support system of friends, family, coaches and teammates.

With each operation came a painful recovery period and a challenge to return to normalcy. It was physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. The endless cycle of recovery/rebuilding was exhausting on many levels, and there were times I was ready to throw in the towel.

But I never did. There were many things I wanted to accomplish or experience in life, and I was not going to let anything stand in my way. Thanks to a positive, forward-looking attitude and a willingness to grind through hard times, here I am at age 45, happily married with three great kids, two dogs and seven nieces and nephews. I am doing what I love: coaching.

What helped me along the way? Understanding that everything is relative. Case in point, when I was starting to feel sorry for myself about needing to go in for another CT scan on a Saturday morning, all I needed to do was look around at the other patients in the waiting room. Many of whom were battling cancer.

On a relative basis, there is always someone worse off. That was an incredible life lesson. That does not minimize whatever you are going through, but it does help to remember that notion when you begin to dwell on how life is unfair (it is) and be thankful for all that you do have, which is a lot.

I also quickly appreciated that it was easier to be the patient in the hospital bed than the friend/family member watching helplessly. I had goals. I had a game plan. I had my marching orders from my doctors. I knew that I was going to do whatever it took. I did not waste energy, focusing on what I was missing, just the task at hand. One step at a time. Literally.

I look at our current state of quarantine much like a surgery recovery. You are out for three months. Your focus needs to be on what you can control. You need to work on improving yourself and be ready to regain your life after being cleared to do so. There are no guarantees in life, but you always have a better chance of success if you focus on the inputs: your attitude, effort and energy. You still have control over that. Stay engaged. Stay positive.

While each operation and recovery took a physical toll on me, I know it also helped me build mental and emotional fortitude that has served me well throughout my life. I often think of a John Wooden quote, “Character isn’t formed during challenging times, but it is revealed.” I couldn’t agree more. Embrace the challenges you have in life, for they will be the most formative times.

I look forward to being back on the fields this summer. Until then, enjoy your time with your family during the quarantine. Before you know it, some of you will be off to college.

Best,

Coach Murphy

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