Re­con­struct­ing the life of the man who came back from the dead

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - JIM WHITE

EX­ACTLY 23 years on, De­clan Mur­phy can­not re­mem­ber any­thing about the ac­ci­dent that al­most killed him. “Nope, noth­ing,” he says. “I have no mem­ory.” At Hay­dock Park on May Day 1994, the horse he was rid­ing fell at a hur­dle. As he tum­bled from the sad­dle, he was knocked un­con­scious.

While he lay on the turf, un­able to roll from dan­ger, a fol­low­ing horse stamped on his head. So trau­matic was the in­jury, as he re­mained ap­par­ently un­re­spon­sive in a coma, the doc­tors ad­vised that his life sup­port should be switched off; the

Rac­ing Post even pub­lished his obituary. The de­vice, how­ever, was left on while his par­ents trav­elled from Ire­land. But be­cause his fa­ther re­fused to come by plane, in­stead of six hours to get to War­ring­ton, the Mur­phys took 24. And after 22 hours their son showed the first twitch of life.

But it was not just the ac­ci­dent that was ex­punged from his mem­ory. Long after he had re­cov­ered, long after he learned to walk, to run, to ride again, long after he forged a new ca­reer as a hugely suc­cess­ful prop­erty de­vel­oper liv­ing in Barcelona, the time he was at the peak of the rid­ing trade re­mains a com­plete blank.

“Four years, six months, four days: gone,” he says. “I can re­mem­ber up to the point I be­came suc­cess­ful. But it wiped out all the best parts of my ca­reer.”

Yet now, two decades after the ac­ci­dent, he has just pub­lished his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. It seems an un­likely propo­si­tion: the mem­oir of a man who can’t re­mem­ber. “Maybe that’s why it’s taken so long,” he says. “There are so many pages of my story torn out. I never wanted to do a book. I turned the idea down many times. I’d walked away, be­come some­one dif­fer­ent. I didn’t want to go back there.”

In the end he was per­suaded by his ghost writer, an Amer­i­can aca­demic called Ami Rao. She be­came his ghost in ev­ery sense, try­ing to in­habit his past in the quest to help him re­cover the lost times. The re­sult is Cen­taur, a bril­liant, bold and at times bru­tal ex­am­i­na­tion of the process of re-con­struct­ing his mem­ory.

“What ap­peared to hap­pen to me was I had an ac­ci­dent and I re­cov­ered. But it wasn’t as sim­ple as that,” he sug­gests. “It was a deeply per­sonal bat­tle. I didn’t have a fight go­ing on within me, I had a war. I chose to fight this war on my own.”

In the long process of re­cov­ery, he cut him­self off com­pletely from his past. Al­though strong enough phys­i­cally, he only rode one come­back race. He won it and then walked away from rac­ing. Rao, how­ever, made him con­front who he was, made him look at ev­ery sin­gle piece of writ­ten or vis­ual ev­i­dence of his rid­ing prow­ess.

“I’ve never cried so much as I have doing this,” he ad­mits. “We talked to so many peo­ple. Their mem­o­ries of what hap­pened, it was like I’m a third party lis­ten­ing to this story. Re­ally? That was me?”

Mur­phy had de­lib­er­ately re­moved him­self from those who had been cen­tral to his life be­fore the ac­ci­dent. In the re­con­struc­tion of his mem­ory, Rao con­tacted all of them, sev­eral of whom had not heard from him in nearly 25 years.

“That was the amaz­ing thing about this book,” Mur­phy says. “Ev­ery­body we spoke to was des­per­ate to talk. It was like they had fi­nally been given per­mis­sion.”

He dis­cov­ered all sorts of things in the process. “It seems when the doc­tor brought my hel­met in and it seeped blood on to the ta­ble, ev­ery jockey in the weigh­ing room that day, their blood went cold. ”

Rao also con­tacted Joanna, Mur­phy’s then-girl­friend, who stood by him through­out his re­cov­ery, but they broke up soon after. The prob­lem was Mur­phy had no mem­ory of her be­fore his ac­ci­dent. Noth­ing at all — some­thing his seven-year-old daugh­ter strug­gles to un­der­stand.

As he moved on in life, leaving his past be­hind, Mur­phy says the fact he was such a suc­cess­ful jockey be­came less sig­nif­i­cant.

“I’m ab­so­lutely a dif­fer­ent per­son. I have never used rac­ing as a cur­rency to trade in. Never. And I had a great ca­reer. But I ab­so­lutely used the dis­ci­plines I used as a jockey. But I think I had those any­way, and would have ap­plied them to what­ever I have done. I cer­tainly had to be very disciplined in my re­cu­per­a­tion.”

Men­tally, he says, his re­cov­ery was the most dif­fi­cult thing he has ever done. Or at least that he can re­mem­ber doing.

“I had to make sac­ri­fices that you can’t imag­ine ever hav­ing to make. Ev­ery­body said I changed. I be­came very pri­vate. I be­came ob­sessed with try­ing to cre­ate an iden­tity for my­self. That’s the thing when you don’t have a mem­ory: you don’t have any­thing that tells you that you are the per­son you are.”

Now at least the mem­o­ries are there in his book. Even if not in his mind. Cen­taur by De­clan Mur­phy and Ami Rao is pub­lished by Dou­ble­day. Tele­graph

De­clan Mur­phy in 1995

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.