Wigtown Book Festival review - Declan Murphy and Ami Rao discuss ‘Centaur’.
Irish jump jockey Declan Murphy and Ami Rao, the author who chiselled this brilliant book out of him, held their audience spellbound on a drich Saturday afternoon at the book festival as his story unfolded.
Murphy’s battle to recover his life, and a meaningful purpose to it, after a devastating head injury sustained in a fall, showed the raw courage and blood-minded stubbornness of this former elite sportsman.
Having fallen off in a race when his mount hit a hurdle, his skull was smashed into 12 pieces as the hoof of a horse coming from behind landed smack on his head. Lying almost lifeless in hospital in Liverpool, he was given the last rites and his family were on the point of switching off his life support when fate intervened. His parents in Ireland were delayed arriving at the hospital after his father refused to fly and they made the journey by boat instead. In those few extra hours, Murphy’s brain flickered into life and he survived, but his biggest challenge had also just begun. He commented: “I woke up a 12-year old kid with four and a half years of my life blanked out.”
Rao spoke eloquently about the challenges in getting a taciturn sportsman, far removed from an emotional reaction to anything, to allow her to delve into his psyche.
Rao commented on Murphy’s “will of iron” and she promised him that if she took him to dark places “she would bring him back out” and he trusted her to do exactly that.
His “iron will” saw him make a winning return to the racetrack before he walked away from the sport and the close knit bonds with the racing community that had been the fabric of his life. Rao expressed her amazement at the mentality that drove him back to the arena that almost brought about his early death “just to prove a point”.
For a man who’s mind-set was to control his environment to minimise any risk and who had convinced himself that he would never fall and never fail, dealing with adversity was addressed in the same uncompromising fashion. If he doubted for a second he would recover those lost years, he would forever remain a stranger to himself.
From the starting point of openly admitting there were blanks in his memory, he embarked on a road trip with Rao visiting family, childhood friends, fellow jockeys and trainers to repair the tears in his memory and heal the scars.
The most moving chapter, both admitted, was the thoughts of Murphy’s former girlfriend Joanna, who helped him to recover after his brain surgery. Murphy admits he cannot yet read her words without breaking down, so oblivious was he at the time to the distress she felt. All he could do then was focus on rebuilding his body and his mind.
Murphy admitted: “I had no idea what Joanna was going through. Reading it tore the heart out of me.
Rao added: “He was shaken to hear someone else’s perspective.”
Their collaboration has produced a book that has a profound effect on those who read it, and is a testament to what a human can endure and survive.
As Murphy himself said: “You must not think “why me?”. You have to deal with things. It’s not about what happens to you but how you deal with it, how you deal with adversity.”
Murphy now lives in Barcelona with his family and has no involvement with horses or horse racing at all.