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Thetford Grad Doing Swimmingly for Longhorns

  • Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info

    Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info

  • Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info

    Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info

  • Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info
  • Lyme native Patrick Murphy. Photograph courtesy of University of Texas Sports Info

The saying that everything is bigger in Texas apparently includes aquatic activities. When the hometown University of Texas hosts the NCAA Division I men’s swimming championships in Austin from Thursday through Saturday, the event will be sold out and many of the nearly 2,000 fans will be cheering on the hometown Longhorns in hopes of seeing the program capture its 11th national title.

Given that crowds at an average college swim meet usually number in the dozens, the anticipated gathering is, well, a big deal. Eighth-ranked Texas qualified the most competitors for the event — 16 swimmers and four divers — and is gunning for its first national crown since 2010.

Deep in the mix will be senior backstroke specialist Patrick Murphy, a former Lyme resident and Thetford Academy graduate making his third appearance at the national championships, but his first since his sophomore season. His junior campaign included a foot injury that required surgery to implant two screws and which left him on crutches for six weeks and just short in qualifying time.

“I’d like to place in the top eight,” said Murphy, who helped the Longhorns claim their 35th consecutive conference title earlier this season. “But it’s not so much my individual score. I just want to see Texas come out on top.”

Murphy, 22, was one of the country’s top swimming recruits while at Thetford Academy. He and his family moved to Lyme when he was 13 so his mother could take a nursing job at the Veterans Administration hospital in White River Junction. At first, he competed for the local North Country Aquatic Club, but as his potential rose, he broke away with a personal coach and began training at Kimball Union Academy and a local health club.

“They weren’t the greatest pools in the world, but I got faster and I hung in there until college,” Murphy said.

Murphy completed his high school studies early and trained in Baltimore with Olympian Michael Phelps and his renowned coach, Bob Bowman, before heading back to Texas, where he’d previously lived in The Woodlands, a master-planned Houston suburb.

At 6-feet-4 and 205 pounds, Murphy has the prototypical swimmer’s build, and he placed 23rd at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100-meter backstroke, 65th in the 200-meter backstroke and 99th in the 100-meter butterfly.

This season, Murphy set a personal best of 1:41.5 in the 200-meter backstroke and beat the previous Big 12 Conference meet record with that time.

He chose Texas over Southern California, Michigan and Auburn, and is glad he did so.

“I’m really happy with the campus and I love my coaches,” said Murphy, a kinesiology and business major, adding that his swimming scholarship money comes close to covering his tuition and related costs. “I like the training I get here.”

Murphy’s mother, Christine, said she’s seen her son mature after enduring not just last season’s injury, but the death of his father, Robert, from kidney disease during his freshman year.

“It was pretty hard and I don’t think he was completely focused on swimming,” said Christine Murphy, who lives in Lyme with Patrick’s younger sister. “I think he’s just stronger and everything has come together for him. Those outside things are behind him and he’s much more mature and he knows it. He’s also done better in school.”

Christine Murphy said she’s urging her son, who’s on track to graduate in December, to then focus solely on training in a bid to make the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. She said she’s willing to help support Patrick while he hones his form in Baltimore, Charlotte or some other locale.

“He’s been to two Olympic Trials and I think he’s the best (now that) he’s been in the last four years,” Christine Murphy said.

“Normally, you hit a certain age and you don’t get any better, but he is. I hope he can go to the Olympics. I think he has as good a shot as anybody.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.