- Your Town
Speaker overcomes hardships with positive life outlook
Free presentation Nov. 12 at UMW
During a Hall of Fame career that included his setting a Major League Baseball endurance record by playing in 2632 games over the course of 17 years, Cal “The Iron Man” Ripken Jr. became a hero to millions.
So who is Cal Ripken’s hero?
If you’ve never heard of Gabe Murfitt, you’ll get a chance to hear him and meet him when he gives a free presentation in Dillon on Tuesday, November 12, at 7 p.m. in the Great Room of the University of Montana Western’s Swysgood Technology Center.
Murfitt will offer attendees his message of hope in the face of hardship and strategies for living your life to its maximum potential.
And Gabe Murfitt knows well of what he will speak on.
Burdened with a rare congenital defect known as Pseudo-Thalidomide Tetra-Phocomelia, Gabe was born with arms that extend only a few inches from his torso, legs that cannot straighten out and remain tucked beneath him, thumbs and a number of fingers that don’t work, as well as an impairment that robs him of almost half his hearing.
Forced to balance on perpetually bent legs, the 23-year-old stands only about three-feet tall. But Gabe Murfitt became a giant to many by refusing to let his life be diminished by his physical challenges.
“We all go through hardships and we all make mistakes. But you can overcome what you’re going through,” Murfitt told the Tribune this week.
“We all have the desire to do something great, and the ability to come up with a plan to do it.”
Gabe Murfitt’s list of accomplishments attests to the benefits of that approach. He has already written a well-regarded book, helped start a foundation for disabled children, inspired thousands of people, delivered hundreds of motivational speeches around the West, received the honor of throwing out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game, been featured on Good Morning, America and appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where he was honored for his courage and hailed by Ripken, who showed up just to tell Murfitt how much he admired him.
“For Cal Ripken Jr. to come there and tell me that he looked up to me—that was pretty great and I’ll never forget it,” said Murfitt, who has played baseball in a league for the disabled since he was five.
“But for me, the biggest thing is just living life and enjoying life—that’s what I view as my greatest accomplishment, along with working to help other people change their lives for the better.”
On the way to attaining his iconic stature, Murfitt developed a number of strategies and formulas for success, which he will share with his audience in Dillon on Tuesday.
But the most fundamental secret to success he urges people to embrace is to embrace themselves for who they really are, and overcome others negative perceptions.
He said he was confronted with the importance of that in high school, where some classmates ostracized him due to his disabilities.
“High school is supposed to be the best years of your life, but it’s not for a lot of us. Grade school and junior high were fine, but in high school I ran into a lot of people who wanted to exclude me because they really didn’t know what to make of me or want to accept me,” said Murfitt, who graduated from high school in Washington state in 2008 and went on to attend community college and the University of Washington.
“I had to figure out how to navigate that. So instead of trying to be like everybody else, I did things that really interested me. I got involved in a church youth group and found a lot of friends who helped me forget about the problems I’d had with other people,” said Murfitt, who also joined his school’s marching band as a drummer.
“It was hard, but I overcame it,” said Murfitt, who understands that he was targeted by some due to his unique appearance, but also understands that his situation in high school was not that unusual.
“I know that a lot of kids go through what I did because they are different in some way. Some people will try to hurt them because of that, but others will be there to help them. They can overcome it if they really believe in who they are,” said Murfitt, who likes to also credit his success to the help and encouragement he has received from his family and friends and his service dog, a black lab named Ruth.
They even helped him realize his dream of climbing Mount Rainer in 2004.
“That was such a great experience, and every time I drive by Mount Rainer, I get to look up and say, “I’ve been to the top of that mountain.”
Murfitt’s experiences inspired Gabe and his parents to set up Gabriel’s Foundation of Hope, which helps people with disabilities by offering guidance on how to access resources and by dispensing grants and scholarships to disabled students, as well as to non-disabled students engaged in a field of study aimed at helping the disabled.
Murfitt serves as the foundation’s public speaker. Last year, he delivered more than 100 speeches, many in Montana, and is on target to do as many this year.
Murfitt’s speech in Dillon on Tuesday will be sponsored by the Montana D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Project.
Murfitt said his choice to stay away from drugs during his youth was critical to his success.
“My parents and older brother were really able to help me see that those things weren’t going to help me,” said Murfitt, who continues to play basketball and soccer in his spare time.
“I made the decision that I was not going to do those things, that I wasn’t going to go to parties where those things were going on.
“Maybe I lost some friends from that decision, but it made me a better and stronger person to stick to my decision and to my values.”
Gabe Murfitt will give a presentation in the University of Montana Western Swysgood Technology Center Great Room on Tuesday, November 12, at 7 p.m. The free event is open to the public and is being sponsored by the Montana D.A.R.E. Project.