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Murph: The Workout to Remember

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When I was new to CrossFit, the regular workouts were more than enough to destroy me. While huffing and puffing through whatever the WOD was, people at the gym liked to say “if you think this is bad, you should try…” and then promoted all these WOD’s with names. Not knowing what they were (and not even wanting to know) certain names continued to stick out: Cindy, Karen, Fran, and of course…Murph.

As Memorial Day drew closer, the mysterious Murph workout began to reveal itself:

  • 1 mile run
  • 100 pull-ups
  • 200 push-ups
  • 300 squats
  • 1 mile run

And all of this done with a weight vest for time. Speaking for myself, this workout seemed like something I should skip when I was new. “I was just here to lose a little belly fat”, I thought, “I’m not trying out for the Navy SEALS”. However, the fervor at CrossFit Dark Horse for this Memorial Day event was infectious. Soon, this upcoming workout became something more: a community celebration and ritual in which I wanted to be a part.

Every Memorial Day since 2005, the CrossFit world honors Lt. (SEAL) Michael Murphy was killed in action in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings. Lt. Michael Murphy, or Murph, as he was called by friends and family, received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during a recon operation that quickly went awry.

High in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, the team of only four Navy SEALS were spotted by locals and reported to the Taliban-aligned “Mountain Tigers” and other militant groups in the region, who quickly surrounded the soldiers and engaged them in a heavy firefight.

Vastly outnumbered, the SEALS fought their way through the difficult terrain to find an open-air space where a distress call could be made. After the first attempt failed when communications petty officer Danny Dietz was shot in the hand, Murphy moved away from the rocks and cover out into the open to call for reinforcements. All SEALS were wounded at this point, and Murphy made himself an easy target in the open to attempt to save his team. Under heavy enemy fire, he managed to place a call for support. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter, but he picked it back up and completed the call, then returned to his men and to cover but severely wounded.

Unfortunately this story does not end well. The rescue Chinook Helicopter armed with eight SEALS and eight Army Night Stalkers was shot down before they could land and aid their brothers. All 16 soldiers aboard the helicopter were killed. The four SEALS on the ground, nearly out of ammunition and badly wounded, continued to fight off the militants. After a two-hour long firefight, Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz, and Matthew Axelson were killed. The fourth SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, made his own heroic escape. He travelled seven miles on foot, barely alive, while evading the enemy to finally discover friendly locals who gave him aid within their village. The Taliban even came to the village several times demanding Luttrell be turned over, but the villagers refused and eventually Luttrell was rescued from enemy territory on July 2nd, 2005.

Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

Body Armor

Lt. Michael Murphy’s favorite workout was a one mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and another mile run while wearing his 20 lb armored vest – a workout he called Body Armor. Today we know this as Murph. Murph became apart of the CrossFit world thanks to a man named Dr. Joshua Appel, who served as an Air Force Pararescueman in 2005. He lead the team that rescued Marcus Luttrell and recovered the bodies of fallen SEALS Murphy, Dietz, and Axelson from Afghanistan. Though Murph was programed at CrossFit’s main site since 2005, it was Appel who made it a main stay in the CrossFit world two years later.

In 2007, Appel gathered members at his CrossFit gym to perform “Murph” on Memorial Day to honor all the lives lost in active duty. This continued every year and in 2010, Appel asked Michael Murphy’s father to ask permission to do a national fundraiser. He asked his members to chip in a small fee to do the Murph challenge, and all proceeds went to the Lt. Michael Murphy Scholarship Foundation.

CrossFit Games

In 2015, Murph made its way onto the main stage at the CrossFit Games. Dave Castro programmed the workout unpartitioned, meaning straight through, for the Game’s athletes to suffer through during the midday California heat. It’s impact on the competitors made history too, with Annie Thorisdottir dropping out of the competition and Kara Webb passing out right after finishing and being treated for heatstroke. Sam Briggs was the fastest woman completing Murph in thirty-nine minutes and ten seconds. The fastest time for the men was held by Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson with thirty-eight minutes in thirty-six seconds.

Next year Castro programed Murph again solidifying it’s place in CrossFit. The event started earlier in the day to avoid athletes passing out or withdrawing from a workout grueling enough to break the best of the best. Kari Pearce won the women’s match completing the workout with a time of 36:42. The winner of the men’s event with a time of 34:38 was Josh Bridges – a former Navy SEAL himself. Every Memorial Day hence, CrossFit box’s across the country put their bodies to the test in a punishing workout that honors fallen soldier Lt. (SEAL) Michael Murhpy. Five-time CrossFit Games winner Matt Frazer put it this way:

“When you’re feeling pain during the workout, it’s nothing compared to how this person felt or how this person’s family felt. So that puts it in perspective. This pain (the workout) doesn’t hurt that badly.”

If you dodged, I mean missed, Murph in May, you can squeeze it in this Independence Day! It is a great way to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy because of the sacrifices made by our armed forces! Happy 4th!

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