It’s time for Connor Murray to work on his baseball swing, and what better practice partner than his younger brother, Collin Murray. Rather than opt for a tee to set the baseball, Connor has a better idea. To the juvenile mind, it’s a simple and easy plan. Collin will hold the ball from his outstretched arms, Connor will swing, Connor will connect perfectly with the ball and the process will repeat. The only problem is that things didn’t exactly go according to plan. Connor wound up, swung with all his might, and connected with Collin’s forehead, leaving him with a large red welt.
Take into account the spontaneous wrestling matches and one-on-one basketball games, and the Murray brothers collected more than a few bumps and bruises on their path through childhood athletics. Despite trying sports like basketball, baseball and football, they ultimately chose rowing. Now for one year, the brothers will both row for Gonzaga, performing the sport they love with the person they love the most.
Connor, a senior, is wrapping up his GU rowing and academic career. As a high school junior, he realized that his tall and lanky frame wasn’t cut out for overly physical sports such as football, where the opposition outweighed him by upward of a hundred pounds. Connor’s mother suggested that his body was more suitable for a different kind of sport.
“My mom went to University of Washington and she always watched the crew races there,” Connor said. “She said I had a good body for it. I went and tried out and within the first month or two, I was beating the varsity guys.”
Connor dropped all other sports and concentrated solely on crew. After rowing for Lake Stevens Rowing Club (Wash.) for a year and then for the Everett Rowing Association during his senior year of high school, he set his sights on the collegiate level. He took three official recruiting visits at GU and fell in love with the school’s atmosphere and rowing program.
Assistant Coach Mark Voorhees targeted Connor as a work-in-progress.
“He was a guy who hadn’t really grown into his body completely,” Voorhees said, “So he still wasn’t as fast as some of the top end guys in the country. … I looked at him as somebody who, one or two years into the program, was going to be making a big impact.”
The Bothell, Washington. native rowed as a lightweight in high school, but since GU doesn’t have a lightweight team, the 155-pound freshman would have to bulk up. Hours in the gym over winter break resulted in a special Christmas present: an additional 30 pounds.
The effect was immediate. After returning from the holidays, Connor moved up in the ranks from the Third Varsity 8 boat to the Junior Varsity 8 boat. His JV8 qualified for the IRA National Championships and finished 18th in the country. Since then, he has been a mainstay in the Varsity 8.
Connor’s steady focus and even temperament enable him to excel in what can be an exceedingly frustrating sport.
“He recognizes that there are ebbs and flows and highs and lows in this sport,” Voorhees said. “He doesn’t get too high on the highs or get too low on the lows. He realizes that every day, whether it is a good day or a bad day, there is something to learn from it that can make you better.”
The 6-foot-5 senior believes that crew has defined his GU experience, and is thankful for all of the memories and friends he has made along the way. As great as his time has been on the team thus far, his final year promises to be even sweeter simply because his brother is along for the ride.
Connor and Collin have been best friends their entire lives. Their competitive-yet-friendly sibling sports rivalry drew them close together at a young age.
“The consensus is that we are pretty much the same person in everyone else’s eyes,” Collin said with a grin and a laugh. “Our personalities are very, very similar.”
They share a reserved and laid-back demeanor. Voorhees sees a “quiet intensity” in both athletes. They may not jump and scream in excitement, but they are committed to treat every stroke like it’s their last.
The duo also share a passion for the outdoors, which may explain their affinity for a sport that is raced in natural settings.
“It’s basically been our entire childhood,” Collin said. “Ever since we could really walk, we were learning to hike and to live outdoors in tents and experience nature.”
The brothers have embarked on numerous hikes with their dad over the last few summers, culminating with an ascent of Mount Stuart in Washington this past summer.
With a similar personality, passion and physique, it’s not surprising that Collin’s journey to GU rowing mirrors Connor’s path. Collin started rowing for the same reason as Connor.
“The biggest thing was that I was always a smaller and skinnier kid,” Collin said. “All the other sports required more actual size, and I found that in rowing, even if you are smaller, you can still be put in a good spot because you row well and row efficiently.”
Collin rowed as a lightweight in high school and now confronts the same weight challenge that Connor dealt with three years ago. But he will face it knowing that his older brother is right by his side.
Collin’s voyage is only beginning. Connor knows there will be stormy nights when it will be tempting for his younger brother to abandon ship. He’s been through it himself. Yet he also knows that if Collin can weather the storms, there will be light on the other side, which gives Connor hope and excitement for his best friend.
“I hope he gets the same thing that I got, like being a part of this awesome community and being able to challenge yourself and push yourself as far as you can go,” Connor said. “Hopefully [Collin] will win some races and take over my spot. I leave my own legacy with him.”
Follow the writer on Twitter: @jwiens17