Olympic swimmer Ryan Murphy's battle against migraines shows his toughness outside of the pool

Mike Freeman, USA TODAY
·4 min read

Ryan Murphy, a 2016 Olympian and three-time gold medalist, who is looking to qualify for his second Games, remembers one of the most difficult moments in fighting his migraine headaches.

It's a powerful story, and it demonstrates what Murphy has overcome not just as an Olympian, but as a human being fighting the beast that is a migraine.

Murphy has partnered with Eli Lilly, the prescription medicines partner of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). Eli Lilly works to treat various conditions such as diabetes and also focuses on oncology and biomedicine therapeutics.

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As a new USOPC sponsor, Lilly is working with a number of Olympic athletes including Chaunté Lowe. Hers is one of the more remarkable stories as we are 100 days out from the Games in Tokyo. Lowe is a four-time Olympian (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016) in track and field attempting to qualify for her fifth Games.

In 2019 she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy to treat the disease and has returned to competition. She's also a mom of three children.

Ryan Murphy after racing at the TYR Pro Swim Series at San Antonio on March 4, 2021 in San Antonio.
Ryan Murphy after racing at the TYR Pro Swim Series at San Antonio on March 4, 2021 in San Antonio.

Murphy's story centers on a flight that he'll never forget.

"Yeah honestly the hardest part about migraines is how unexpected it is," said Murphy to USA TODAY Sports. "It comes at inopportune times mostly for me. A lot of the time migraines come as a result of stress, so when I have a lot going on and then you couple that with the migraines, it is a little bit tough to deal with.

"In terms of specific events, I think the most embarrassing migraine story that I have: It was we were leaving for the 2012 Olympic Trials, so I was leaving out of my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. I was super nervous for my first Olympic trials. It made me connect through the Atlanta airport, and get on the second plane.

"On that plane was the entire Auburn swim team, and in swimming culture, these college guys are like gods in the entire sport. So I was looking around swim-nerding out, super nervous to be around those people and then also being nervous to compete at the Olympic Trials.

"I got a migraine on that second flight on my way to Omaha. For me, when I get a migraine, the first thing that happens is that I get really hot, I start sweating, so I was asking the flight attendant for 'water,' I'm going to try and hydrate my way out of this. Didn’t really work. Instead I was like, massaging my temples, trying to work out the migraine that way, and ultimately I ended up having to run down the aisle because I felt like I was going to throw up.

"There was someone in the bathroom as I was running down that aisle, so I was shaking the door, there's someone in there, and so I puked all over that first-class cabin. I had run to the front of the plane, puked all over, I think a little bit of puke got onto the Auburn head coach's shoe, just to add to the embarrassment.

Ryan Murphy competes in the men's 100-meter butterfly heats during the TYR Pro Swim Series at Mission Viejo at Marguerite Aquatics Center on April 8, 2021 in Mission Viejo, California.
Ryan Murphy competes in the men's 100-meter butterfly heats during the TYR Pro Swim Series at Mission Viejo at Marguerite Aquatics Center on April 8, 2021 in Mission Viejo, California.

"So, I am making light of this story, it was not a very fun experience and I think that that moment really did teach me that I’ve got to figure out how to help manage these symptoms that I’m getting as a result of migraine."

What would Murphy's advice be to younger athletes fighting migraines?

"Yeah I think really the reasons that I’m so excited to partner with Eli Lilly is that they are so excited about helping people reach their potential," said Murphy. "And they are taking on a lot of really challenging health problems and trying to come up with solutions or management to help people with those health problems. So to the young athletes, I really think you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms and try to come up with a treatment plan that’s best going to work for you."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympian Ryan Murphy's battle against migraines shows his toughness