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All-American diver and Big Ten champion Conor Murphy celebrates being gay at Indiana

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Conor Murphy, a two-time Big Ten diving champion, talks about finding freedom at a young age, being gay on the Indiana Univ. diving team and the loss of his mother that changed his life.

Conor Murphy springing into a dive for Indiana Univ.
Conor Murphy springing into a dive for Indiana Univ.
Indiana Univ.

Conor Murphy finished his Algebra II assignment quickly that day. It left him time to talk to his friend Gina before the bell rang. He hadn't told anyone he was gay before that day, yet he shared his truth as matter-of-fact as he would his favorite TV show.

"I didn't really plan it," Murphy said of that 2007 autumn day. "I just did it."

The rest of Murphy's day is a blur. He went to his classes and gymnastics practice after school. He heard someone quote "Superbad," which was released a few weeks earlier. He listened to Sean Kingston's song "Beautiful Girls," which was at the top of the charts. But with little foresight, Murphy turned an average day his sophomore year at Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High School into the day he started living openly.

At 15, he couldn't even grow whiskers on his porcelain, freckled face, but the blue-eyed, red-haired teenage boy knew he was attracted to guys, not girls.

Throughout his life Conor Murphy owned a bold, confident personality that helped him win athletic accolades and find comfort in being gay.

"There's nothing worse than being ashamed of it. I would just walk around with my head held high. There was no changing anything, and I didn't want to change anything."

Murphy said he doesn't remember struggling to define his sexuality, but understanding it was a gradual process. He felt he was bisexual through his freshman year of high school, and in middle school he took girls to dances. Since about seventh grade he realized he preferred Jude Law to J. Lo.

Now Murphy owns two Big Ten titles and two top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships in platform diving. He completed his bachelor's degree in political science from Indiana University in May.

He is also the first IU athlete to say publicly he is gay, according to Doug Bauder, coordinator of the IU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Service Office. Murphy never hid his sexuality, but during his IU career he felt consumed by training, competing and studying. Now that he's done, he wants to take this step "to help other people if they are struggling to come out."

November news

Murphy's life changed the night of Nov. 17, 1997. His memories as a 5-year-old are minimal, but Murphy remembers his dad's important news that night.

Martin Murphy came home and gathered his three kids Grady, Maura and Conor. Maura didn't need a proclamation. She knew their mom was sick. At 42 years old, Erin Murphy's battle with breast cancer ended that night. Maura ran away crying.

Conor wandered back to his bedroom not comprehending what he heard. The realization hit him a couple days later when he looked in the casket. The tears started, and they flowed the rest of the day.

"I was never going to see her again," Conor said of his realization during the funeral. "Everything was going to be different after that."

Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy with his father, Martin.

Conor had started kindergarten that fall. On top of all the things a mother provides, Erin was a stay-at-home mom, so she handled the brunt of the cooking and laundry. Now, those responsibilities frequently fell to the kids.

"We just had to learn to do a lot of other things on our own. It just made us stronger people - me, my brother and sister - stronger and more independent in general."

Cooking became one of Murphy's favorite activities. He remembers the thrill of boiling spaghetti noodles on his own for the first time.

Murphy also taught himself front and back flips on the backyard trampoline. His dad encouraged his acrobatic interest and enrolled Murphy in gymnastics classes at age 7. Over the next 10 years, Murphy became one of the top junior trampoline competitors in the world. He competed in a Junior World Championships in Canada and one in Russia. He won the 15-to-16-year-old tumbling title at the 2008 Pan American Championships in Argentina.

Before his junior year of high school, Murphy grew tired of taking physical education classes and decided to join the school's diving team to fulfill his P.E. requirement. He had no grand expectations for the sport, he just knew he could translate some of his trampoline technique to the pool.

"I just decided to do diving because it was similar to gymnastics. And if anything, they would help each other out.

"It worked out pretty well."

Out at Indiana

Trampoline is not part of NCAA gymnastics competition. After immediate high school diving success, Murphy realized diving provided a route to college athletics. He took an official visit to Bloomington in the fall of 2009. Near the end of his visit, Murphy talked with a couple members of the IU team at one of their houses. He got asked if he's bisexual.

"I'm like, ‘No, I'm gay,'" Murphy said of the conversation. "They were like, ‘Oh, cool. Good for you. You're comfortable with yourself.'"

Murphy learned when he arrived on campus why it didn't matter. He wasn't alone. He was one of six gay males on the Indiana swimming and diving team at one point in his career.

"Bloomington is pretty accepting," Murphy said. "There are so many different people coming from so many different places. I wouldn't say it's a really liberal place, but it's very tolerant and welcoming."

Murphy experienced his first male kiss as a high school sophomore, but he met his first boyfriend his sophomore year at IU. That year, he also began diving at an elite level.

"Kids can come in and be at practice and really actually get worse sometimes. He just made the most of practice," said Jeff Huber, Murphy's diving coach his first three years at IU. "He got better every semester, every year."

Murphy started his IU career as a walk-on, leaving trampoline behind and focusing on diving. His effort earned Murphy a scholarship for his final three years and led to significant progress. He finished his sophomore year fifth at NCAAs in platform diving and competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials that summer. As a junior, he captured the Big Ten title in platform diving and took third at NCAAs in it.

He defended his Big Ten title this March, but an ankle injury at the NCAA qualifying meet prevented Murphy from competing at the 2014 NCAA Championships.

"He's a confident person by nature," Huber said. "He's going to do some really good things in the future. I think he's going to be very successful. He made the most of his IU experience."

The inscription on Erin Murphy's headstone says, "In our hearts forever. Grady, Maura, Conor and Mart."

Especially for Conor, his mom's death gave him the heart to be a bold, confident man.

"The reason that I am the person that I am today is just because my Mom died when we were so young. We had to sit down and learn to work and do things for ourselves. ... I owe a lot of success to the passing of my mom."

Now, he hopes to aid other athletes needing confidence.

"If I can help them, then I will."

You can follow Conor Murphy on Twitter @thered_panda.

You can follow Erik Hall on Twitter @HallErik.