Photo by Marleen Van Den Neste.
As a child, Ted Murphy spent summers at a lake in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where he’d fling stones into the water and try to make them skip. He’d pretend sticks were spears and throw them as far as he could. He remembers running a mile downhill to a nearby farm each morning to pick up fresh milk, then dashing back uphill. “That got me in pretty good shape,” says the Rockville resident, who turned 94 in February. He ran cross-country in high school and college, and has always stayed active, from training for the U.S. Army Air
Forces—he flew planes in World War II and the Korean War—to hiking, skiing and playing tennis.
Murphy retired from a career as a geologist and environmental planner when he was 60, and five years later he heard about the Maryland Senior Olympics, an annual competition for ages 50 and older. “I never thought of myself as an athlete,” he says. “But getting into the seniors I could see there was a chance I might do something.”
After swimming his first year, he moved on to golf, bowling and track and field events. He’s competed for nearly three decades, has won more than 68 medals (he’s lost count) and holds 12 state records in events including softball throw, discus and standing long jump. Four years ago he threw the javelin 66 feet 9 inches for a record in the 90-94 age bracket, and he’s looking forward to moving up to the 95-99 group. As he’s gotten older, there’s been less competition, Murphy says, but his aim is always to beat his personal best.
Murphy and his wife, Shirley, 92, settled in Rockville in 1972, and moved into a cottage at The Village at Rockville, a retirement community, in 2008. The couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary this May and have three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Shirley says one secret to their long marriage is that they have their own activities and interests. Also, “patience and tolerance,” her husband says, “and love helps.”
Murphy still plays 18 holes of golf in nice weather. Weekly games of bocce ball and practicing for the Senior Olympics keep him busy, and he drives to the bowling alley and the grocery store. “Some people don’t want to ride with me,” he says. “Having been a fighter pilot, I can’t slow down. I’ve got a lot of tickets around here. The speed cameras are terrible.”
The Maryland Senior Olympics is a qualifying event for the National Senior Games, which are held every other year. The one time Murphy made the trip to the senior games, he slipped in mud while practicing for the javelin competition. “I could hardly walk when it was my turn to throw,” he says. Now he’s focused on earning a spot in the 2019 games. “If I can survive this year and get to the nationals one time more, that will be my swan song.”
Murphy credits his longevity to his genes—his mom lived to 101, his brother to 93—and a good attitude. “I don’t think about age unless somebody asks me,” he says. People often guess he’s about 75, and are surprised to hear the truth. “I like to see how they take it,” he says, laughing. “I don’t go around bragging, but Shirley would say I do.”