Success is more rewarding when it’s in honor of a best friend. Former dual sport athlete Eric LaHaie ’02 found this out first hand, after dedicating his most recent ultra marathon finish to his late teammate, Niall Murphy ’03.
LaHaie took second place in a field of 153 competitors in the Sahara Race, a seven-day, 250-kilometer (roughly 155 mile) trek through the Valley of the Whales in Egypt.
At age 31, LaHaie was the top American finisher, completing the endurance competition in just over 28 hours. Dan Parr of the United Kingdom won the race, crossing the finish line just three hours faster.
The course proved difficult, as the elements victimized competitors.
“The hardest part of the Sahara Race, and what differed from the previous two [long distance races] I have done, was the heat,” LaHaie wrote in an email. “It was hot in the [Gobi and Atacama], but in the Sahara it was just constant and sort of baking heat because of the all the sand which absorbs the heat and also reflects the sun back up at you. Sort of a double whammy.”
While water was provided throughout the course, racers mostly supported themselves, carrying 15 to 20 pounds of supplies on their backs.
But as LaHaie constantly reminds himself, the difficulties he experiences during ultra marathon races do not compare to those faced by his best friend.
Murphy, a teammate of LaHaie on both the football and track teams at Harvard, died suddenly from complications of juvenile diabetes on Feb. 16 earlier this year.
“It was quite the shock for me, as it was for all of Niall’s loved ones,” LaHaie said. “It was just so sudden and he left us way too early.”
LaHaie and Murphy met during pre-season football camp in 1999. Both played safety in the fall and ran hurdles in the spring. “I was one year ahead of him, but we had an instant bond,” LaHaie said. “We spent a lot of time together and became the closest of friends.”
The duo’s chemistry was obvious, as the all-Ivy safeties contributed to a defense that helped Harvard complete an undefeated and untied season in 2001.
“Among a team of friends, they were like family,” Harvard football coach Tim Murphy said. “They were like brothers.”
The two competed together for the last time at the 2003 Oxford-Cambridge Track Meet in England, winning the highly coveted Naughton Trophy.
Since the end of his college career, LaHaie has found other ways to fuel his competitive drive, finishing among the top 10 in six major ultra-endurance races on four different continents.
LaHaie’s success does not surprise his college football coach.