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Teacher inspired by wife’s memory to run NYC Marathon for charity

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That Karen Murphy sure was a convincing woman. 

For years she convinced students to pursue their passion in music. 

She convinced her husband, Mike, a fellow music teacher, that he could run half marathons. 

And a couple of years ago when Mike complained that he might be too old to run a full marathon, she convinced him otherwise. 

So it would be no surprise that on the first Saturday after her funeral, Karen 'spoke' to her husband, waking him up at exactly 5 a.m. That gave him enough time to join a group run, his first run since her death, a group run on a winter morning. It was a run he was trying to talk himself out of. But at 5 a.m., he was convinced otherwise. So he ran. 

He was met with hugs and smiles. During that five-mile run, a key step in his new journey had begun. 

"It just felt so good, and it was one of those beautiful winter sunrise mornings, and it was probably the first big healing moment I felt," Mike said. 

"Whether it was Karen or God, I believe I was supposed to get up and go run." 

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Mike Murphy is a former band director at Pius X High School. After 29 years as director, he is now a band teacher employed at Pius X High School and teaches at other Lincoln Catholic schools (North American Martyrs, St. Michael, St. Peter, and St. Mary). 

Karen was a long-time music teacher in Lincoln Catholic schools as well, and was often the unofficial assistant band director at Pius X. Her imprint on the musical talent of students through her teaching and her positive spirit impacted many. In January of 2017, she died suddenly of a splenic artery aneurysm. 

And even without his wife, best friend and top cheerleader, Mike keeps on running. 

Mike is running this November's New York City (NYC) Marathon as a charity runner for Project Purple. The organization supports efforts for research to treat pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that led to the passing of Karen's mom and uncle. 

The decision to run in the NYC Marathon is ironic because it was Karen's idea a few years ago for Mike to start running half-marathons and marathons. Together they started supporting the Project Purple charity. 

Last May, in preparation for the Lincoln Half Marathon, Mike found himself talking to people at the Project Purple table at the race expo. He had resisted taking on a fundraising effort in the past because he didn't want to be asking people for donations. 

But again, a convincing feeling came over him. 

"I just got this yearning that I really wanted to do it," he said. "It just kept nagging at me, and so I thought, 'Well, I will go ahead and apply, and then forget about it and see what happens.'" 

A few weeks later, he received word from Project Purple that he'd been accepted. 

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Mike, who will be 66 when he runs the NYC Marathon in November, shares how overcoming the sudden death of a wife and best friend is a bit like preparing for a race. 

One step at a time, try to keep to a normal routine, have confidence that the pain will subside. Above all, know that you can do it. What Mike says about running could also apply to grieving, in many ways: 

"The mental thing is just as important as the physical thing because you have to get a mindset that running that number of miles is no big deal," he said. "I wouldn't want to say that it's not a big deal, but you have to get a mindset that yes, you can do that." 

When running, Mike thinks about, well, anything and nothing. He listens to the birds, says an occasional rosary, takes in the sounds of his breathing and footsteps, and just runs. 

The New York City Marathon is one of the largest in the world. 

"It's just an amazing city, and Karen and I started spending some time there the last few years," Mike said. "Our son (Sean, a 2007 Pius X graduate) lives there, just an amazing city, such diverse neighborhoods, diversity of people, such a world class city." 

(His younger son, Ryan, graduated from Pius in 2011.) 

"This run just feels a lot more special," Mike said. "I feel a little more driven." 

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There's a striking video on Mike's phone. It's clear, it's sharp, and it's powerful. It's so important to him he tries to keep it in a certain place on his phone so he can easily find it. It's a key source of motivation to keep running. 

The video, taken by Karen three months before her death, shows Mike running down a gentle slope during the Des Moines marathon, his second one.  

"Whoooo! Mike Murphy at 16!," Karen yells in the video, referring to mile 16, a few miles past the halfway point.   

But then she says, with her trademark sarcasm, "What are you, nuts?"  

And then, as Mike keeps running by, she says, "Love you! Whoooo! 16!"  

It's chilling and heart-warming at the same time.  

And convincing, too.

Pius X • 6000 A St. • Lincoln, NE 68510 • 402-488-0931 • Fax: 402-488-1061

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