Tascosa’s Kendra Murray ended a historic season on the ultimate high note while setting new landmarks for Amarillo ISD.
Murray set a brand-new bar extremely high by not only becoming the first ever wheelchair competitor in AISD, but to also compete and medal at the UIL state track and field championships last Friday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
Throwing in the shot put competition this year, Murray made Tascosa High School proud by earning a bronze medal with her top throw of 16-feet 1/4 inches.
“It was such a cool feeling,” said Murray, who’s personal best throw was 16-feet-1 1/4 inches this year. “I wish I could have gotten gold, but I’ll take the bronze for being my first time and only time at state.”
Murray’s journey to competing in the wheelchair shot put and making the state track meet is very inspiring. Just a few days before her freshman year at Tascosa, Murray was involved in a disastrous car wreck leaving her with a severe spinal cord injury that paralyzed Murray from the waist down. Murray went from an everyday teenager with the ability to walk, to now having to comprehend a completely new experience of being told she’ll never walk again at only 14-years old.
“It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to go through,” Murray said. “It was unbelievable at first. We all think It could never happen to me. So, I never thought anything like this would happen to me. It shows you that anything can happen. The mental health journey was probably the toughest part of what I went through. People see me as a very positive person, and I had to keep that up. But secretly at home I was miserable.”
Getting adjusted to being in a wheelchair, and her life turned upside down, Murray fell into a deep depression that lasted close to two years. The bubbly, always fun Murray, would hide her feelings on the outside, but on the inside, she wasn’t the same.
“I didn’t like myself and I didn’t want to do anything with my life,” Murray said. “I just wanted to stay in my room.”
It was equally difficult for her father, Richard and her family, to watch Murray fall into such a deep mental hole.
“It was very hard seeing her go into such a depression and losing friends,” Richard said. “Watching her battle with it was hard and nobody else saw that. One of the things I saw change was her watching a group called The Rollettes out of Los Angeles. I think then she started noticing how many other people were in her situation and a light came on.”
Entering her senior year of high school this past fall Murray made the decision to make it “her year”. A big credit for Murray’s new attitude goes to One Chair at a Time founder and director, Joe Chris Rodgriguez. Rodriguez introduced himself to the Murray family after her car wreck and has instilled confidence in Murray ever since.
“I initially met with the family after her injury,” Rodriguez said. “They were reluctant at first because of the mindset that you’re going to walk again. I started inviting Kendra to our events. I was hopeful she would try sports to help her confidence and help her cope with her situation.”
Murray started working with Rodriguez and learning to throw the shot put. Rodriguez could see she was very strong and had a chance to be special. After Murray fully bought in, she told Rodriguez she wanted a letter jacket, and the two started making a plan.
“When she started throwing, we made it a plan to get to state,” Rodriguez said. “She started coming out of her shell and getting involved in Tascosa athletics. She was working out in athletics and the Tascosa coaches were very encouraging.”
Murray echoed Rodriguez’s comment.
“I can’t thank coach Joe Chris enough,” Murray said. “I know we butt heads because I’m his favorite. I always have my own opinion and I’ll tell him how I feel. But we get a long great and he’s done a lot for me and where I’m at.”
Seeing Murray’s goal come to fruition with a medal at state was the ultimate joy for Rodriguez.
“I’m so proud of Kendra and her family,” Rodriguez said. “I’m thankful for the Tascosa coaching staff embracing her. There was a big impact to making this all work. We all came together and I’m just super proud she made it to state and fought for a medal.”
Rodriguez and her family weren’t Murray’s only support system.
Tascosa fellow senior Ke’Mauri Pinkard also competed in the Class 5A triple and long jump. Though the two didn’t know each other before the state meet, the two instantly connected and became one another’s biggest supporters.
“Kendra was a great inspiration,” Pinkard said. “She’s a fighter and she was there for me. She let me know I got this. We were going in our events at the same time so It was cool we could be there for each other.”
Murray agreed with Pinkard.
“I had a mix of emotions at state,” Murray said. “Every emotion was running through me. I had never met Ke’Mauri (Pinkard) before, but we got to know each other, and he was awesome. I’m so thankful he was there. He was very supportive of me and hyped me up. We gave each other so much support and he kept telling me I got this. Having him support me made such a difference.”
Tascosa girls track and field coach, Sarah Stewart, was there every step of the way all season becoming one of her biggest fans and was right with her while she threw in Austin.
“Kendra’s always fighting and never giving up,” Stewart said. “She’s always finding something to be positive about through her story and her hard times. She was able to turn it around though it took her a while to get there. I think her message is just to never give up no matter what happens to you. I think she has a completely different glow about her. She’s so happy and it’s awesome to see her medal. She improved every meet.”
Murray knows going forward that sharing her story and helping others in her position is important and has a message for anyone in her situation.
“I would love to give my younger self more confidence,” Murray said. “I absolutely did not like myself right after my accident. But I want everyone to know even if you’re different or you don’t like yourself you are still as good as anyone else and you never need to change. I also want to say that you need to enjoy the small things because you may look back and realize they were big things.”