Cyclones’ Murray uses his position to spread awareness of dwarfism

CINCINNATI — Tim Murray loves sports. Like all of them.

what you need to know

  • Tim Murray, athletic coach for the Cincinnati Cyclones, suffers from dwarfism
  • A huge sports fan, Murray chose sports training as “part of the game.”
  • Cyclones head coach Jason Payne, who is black, said “representation matters” and thinks Murray is a great example of people being able to do anything they want to do
  • Murray meets young people with dwarfism to ‘take them under his wing’

Baseball, basketball and soccer especially. In recent years, this list has been expanded to include hockey, which has grown in popularity since Murray grew up in Edgewood, Kentucky in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Like many children, Murray dreamed of playing on the diamond or the gridiron growing up. But he knew from a young age that it probably wasn’t out of the question for him.

Murray, 35, has achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism.

The genetic condition impairs bone growth in the limbs, leaving a person’s arms and legs short compared to the head and torso. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult height for people with dwarfism is 4 feet.

The condition affects about one in 40,000 births.

Athletic training was the perfect field for Murray. He didn’t want to be in an office; His favorite things to do are down in the locker room, out on the field and with the athletes.

The exterior of Tim Murray’s office at the Heritage Bank Center. Inside, his job is to keep top athletes sane, sane and on the ice. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

It lets him be part of the team.

“I knew I wanted to play some kind of sport, but I knew that playing wasn’t really an option,” Murray said. “This was a way for me to stay involved.”

As a student at Scott High School, Murray was trying to figure out what he wanted to do for a living. Murray credits Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. with helping him make the decision to pursue athletic training.

The boy did not give him any special professional advice or help him get an internship. Murray just wanted to watch his favorite player hit home runs.

“When Ken got here, he was just always hurt,” Murray said. “I was like, ‘I wish I could help him get back on the pitch.'”

Murray graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and received a master’s degree from Murray State. He is now the coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team in the ECHL.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work out with Griffey because he retired before I graduated, but now I’m getting down to work and helping other guys pursue their dreams of pro sports and pro hockey,” said Murray, who has been a athletic coach for 13 years. This is his second full season with the Cyclones.

Sports coaches are part of a large health team that takes care of the players. For the Cyclones, the medical team also consists of several doctors, chiropractors, and dentists who coordinate recovery plans for players.

While all of those jobs matter, Murray is the one who’s with the players every day – traveling with the team and attending practice sessions and games.

Murray’s job includes everything from primary care to injury diagnosis and rehabilitation to disease prevention. That last part was especially important due to league-wide COVID-19 protocols.

“[Murray]is a workhorse,” said Alex Bezerra, Cyclones assistant coach. “It would be really easy for someone dealing with what they are dealing with – the injuries, the illness, COVID over the last few years – to have a hard day’s work. But (Murray) doesn’t have rough days. He works harder than anyone and he’s always just so positive.”

Murray understands that people have questions about his height or how he can perform certain tasks. It’s something he’s been dealing with all his life.

“Growing up in a world built for ‘average height’ is all about adjusting to the situation,” he said. He gave the example of a grocery store: “If something I need is on the top shelf, I either get it or I ask someone for help. Sometimes I just don’t get it.”

At work, too, Murray has learned to adapt. There’s nothing he can’t do, but he might need to approach things a little differently. This may mean using a stool to reach her height on the treatment table.

Tim Murray (right) speaks to a Cincinnati Cyclones player.  Murray monitors players' physical health before, during and after games and training sessions.  (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Cyclones/Tony Bailey)

Tim Murray (right) speaks to a Cincinnati Cyclones player. Murray monitors players’ physical health before, during and after games and training sessions. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Cyclones/Tony Bailey)

“The boys understand. They are very accommodating to me and give me everything I need to do my job,” he added. “But I’m just adjusting to the world around me instead of making the world adjust to me.”

The Cyclones have a handful of games left in the regular season and are fighting for a spot in the 2022 ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs. It’s been a difficult season due to various roster changes and injuries.

“Hockey injuries primarily affect the lower body due to the nature of the sport,” Murray said.

During his career, Murray has dealt with a number of players who suffered career-ending injuries but recovered to play again. While working with the former Florence Freedom, one of Murray’s players broke his neck. After training and physiotherapy, the player is now trying to make a comeback.

“He went from assuming he’ll never play again to possibly getting back on the field,” he said. “This is just incredible.”

Cyclones head coach Jason Payne praises Murray’s “desire to help players succeed” but believes personality is his secret weapon.

“He deals with people when they’re hurt, they’re sick, maybe they just had a bad game, but that doesn’t matter; Tim always makes sure they are comfortable,” Payne added.

Payne and Murray both joined the club in 2019. During this COVID-shortened first season, the two often lived together on the street, ate together, and trained together. The Cyclones franchise decided not to play last season due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

The connection between Payne and Murray goes deeper than just car rides and weightlifting. Everyone is a pioneer in their own way.

Just before the start of the 2021-22 season, the Cyclones promoted Payne, making him the first black head coach in franchise history. He is also currently the only black head coach in professional ice hockey.

“Representation is important,” Payne said. “Whether it’s your race, your creed, your skin color or whatever – being able to see someone like you doing something you love lets you know that anything is possible.”

Several times over the past few seasons, a local group from Little People of America brought local children to a game of Cyclones so they could watch Murray at work.

“Some of them may have known what I did for a living, but it’s different to see it in person,” Murray said. “I don’t think they understood what I do for a living, so it was pretty awesome for them to be able to see my face on the jumbotron.”

Murray didn’t have many “people who looked like me” to act as role models growing up.

While Murray didn’t experience bullying during his childhood, he said it still happens. And even without explicit bullying, people still comment or stare and ask questions that can be awkward.

“It happens everywhere,” Murray said. “It’s not so much (with the Cyclones) – these guys are great and they know I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know what I was doing. But it’s just part of my life.”

One thing Murray wants to do is help people enlighten them. He doesn’t want to be the champion for the cause, but if there’s a teachable moment or an opportunity to show someone something new, he will.

He has also taken a group of local children with dwarfism under his wing. He offers to advocate for them in sourcing adaptive gaming devices to make them more accessible.

“I want to show them that whatever life throws at them, they can do whatever they put their minds to,” Murray said. “And whatever problems or challenges they have or are facing, they know they can reach out and talk to me about it.”

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