Skip to content

‘Give Up Or Get Up’ – How Devann Murphy’s Osteosarcoma Diagnosis Forged an Unbeatable Mentality

‘Give Up Or Get Up’ - How Devann Murphy’s Osteosarcoma Diagnosis Forged an Unbeatable Mentality Run Tri Bike

Devann Murphy was not athletic as a kid – at all – and an osteosarcoma diagnosis at age 11 didn’t help. Years later, Murphy is a renown handcycle champion who has competed and finished on the podium at global events such as the Boston Marathon. Her mindset ‘Give Up Or Get Up’ has helped moved her forward throughout her life.

If you told 10-year-old Devann Murphy that she would one day be a marathon champion, she might have laughed.  Or, maybe she would have cringed at the thought. As a kid, Murphy was, by her own admission, not much of an athlete.

Fast forward 30 years, though, and Murphy’s tune has changed quite a bit.

Murphy, who is now in her 40s and resides in upstate New York, is an accomplished handcycle athlete. She has finished in the top three for her category multiple times at the Boston and New York City Marathons.

This transition from the kid who would rather skip softball practice to the dedicated endurance athlete who rarely misses a training session was not an easy one. The change came about due to Murphy’s diagnosis of osteosarcoma in her leg at age 11.

‘I Was Given Six Weeks To Live’

Despite never quite feeling at home on a softball diamond, Murphy dutifully showed up to her little league games all throughout her childhood. But her one major play at age 11 was the start of something much more painful.

“I was finally able to make a big play – I caught a ball out in left field, but in doing so, I landed in a split – and that was when I felt something pop,” Murphy says. “Weeks later, after the initial split I landed in, I could still barely walk and was not getting any better. That’s when my parents started looking into more doctor’s appointments to find out what was going on.”

Initially, Murphy was told that her hip was broken. Unfortunately, after continuing to live in tremendous pain, losing weight, and seeing her hair thin out, her parents once again took her back to the doctor.

Defying the Odds: A Terminal Diagnosis Transformed

This time, Murphy was diagnosed with bone cancer in her right leg and hip area. Even more gravely, two separate doctors gave her the diagnosis no child – and no parents – ever want to hear. The told her the cancer was terminal.

“My parents were like, ‘Yeah, we’re not accepting [that you’re terminal],’ so we went to Mass General Hospital in Boston and they told us that I wasn’t terminal, but I would need a lot of treatment,” Murphy says. “My parents were always honest with me about my medical information, and in doing so, they taught me to never give up, to keep going and to always look for answers.”



‘If I Grow Up, I Want To Run A Marathon’

Murphy continued to receive treatment throughout her preteen years for osteosarcoma in Boston. She vividly remembers looking out the windows of Mass General Hospital and seeing lots of people running each day.

“When I asked why all these people are out running each day, the nurse told me they were probably training for the Boston Marathon,” Murphy says. “I told her ‘Cool, if I grow up, I’m going to [run the Boston Marathon].’”

What Murphy didn’t know at the time was that an impending surgery to remove the cancer in her leg would change her perspective on how to finish a marathon.

The Marathon Dream: From Surgery to Couch Potato

“I didn’t know at the time that I would never run again, or even walk again without crutches,” Murphy says. “After my surgery, which took 12 hours and involved removing my diseased femur and entire right hip joint, fusing my pelvis and replacing my femur with donor tissue, I went through the next years of my life as a big couch potato and gained a lot of weight.”

The curiosity of running a marathon faded from Murphy’s mind as the years went by. In 2013, though, she decided it was time to give back to organizations that help people with similar diagnosis. It was in that moment that Murphy and her husband signed up for the Jimmy Fund Half Marathon.

Murphy had to walk the half marathon using her crutches – but she was hooked. She completed a marathon the next year, even though it took her 13 hours.

Discovering Handcycling: A New Chapter Begins

“My husband told me that I couldn’t keep putting my body through this because I was in such rough shape at each finish line – I was barely able to move each time I finished,” Murphy shares. “So I took to Google – and that is how I discovered handcycling.”

Murphy entered the world of handcycling. She described her first handcyle as the equivalent of “walking into a Walmart and buying the cheapest bike there.”

After training on her entry level handcycle throughout 2013, Murphy received a grant from the IM ABLE Foundation to purchase a quality, race-capable handcycle. 

Triumphs and Tribulations: Conquering Marathons

Murphy’s life was changed from thereon out, as she conquered marathon after marathon. She racked up accolades such as first place in the women’s handcycle division at the 2019 Boston Marathon. Another accomplishment was  finishing first in the women’s handcycle division at the 2023 Chicago Marathon. These are just a couple of Murphy’s podiums at world-renowned races.

Despite all the podiums, Murphy remembers a defining moment in her racing career. It was greater than any gold medal and has set the tone for how she approaches much of life today

“If you know Boston 2018, you know it was the year of ‘the suck,’” Murphy says with a laugh, remembering the year that it was frigid and raining all day during the Boston Marathon. “I was at the bottom of one of the Newton Hills and it was cold and windy and raining, and there was a medical tent at the bottom of this hill. It sounded so good – just pull over and stop and get warm in the tent. I literally said out loud to myself, ‘Either give up now or get up the hill.’ And I chose to get up the hill.”



‘Give Up or Get Up’: The Mantra That Changed Everything

Murphy now lives by the “give up or get up” mentality, saying that she has learned that she can adapt to challenging situations and accomplish more than what she may have previously thought is possible.

Whether learning how to ride a handcycle and competing on the global stage or simply facing the daily demon that tells us staying on the couch is an easier, better choice in the moment, Murphy’s “give up or get up” mantra is one that athletes of all levels and aspirations can relate to. Finishing the job will nearly always be more rewarding than temporarily giving up.

Looking Ahead: Paratriathlons and Endless Possibilities

This year, Murphy may dabble in the world of paratriathlon along with other road races. She is supported by Rudy Project, NOW Foods, Nuun Hydration, Athletic Brewing Company, and The Pickle Juice Company.

Kristin Jenny Run Tri Bike Magazine Contributor

Kristin Jenny is an eight-time Ironman finisher and multi-time Kona qualifier. She is based in Boulder, CO where she enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible with her husband and dog. Kristin is passionate about helping others enter the world of endurance sports and to experience all the triathlon community has to offer.