Sydnei Murphy of Apex High and Nyheim Hines of Garner Magnet High consider themselves to be the “old hubby and wifey” of North Carolina high school track. They are also the News & Observer high school athletes of the year.
They are quick to note there is no romance in their relationship, although they posted a picture of Hines on one knee before Murphy as if presenting an engagement ring and Murphy coyly feigning surprise.
It was a joke, an example of the humor they share and a little dig at Murphy, who won eight N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A track and field championships during her career to Hines’ one.
“She has so many rings that she needed another,” Hines said.
They have known each other for so long and spent so much time together that they fuss and tease like old married folks.
The pair met around the seventh grade. Neither is exactly sure where or how, but they already knew of each other.
“You’re running track and you meet a lot of people,” Murphy said. “And you know who is really good.”
Track is the perfect sport for making friends, she said.
“You spend all day at the track, and you compete for 11 seconds,” she said. “You get a lot of time to talk.”
Murphy is outgoing, bubbly and perfectly capable of evoking huge smiles and a soft chuckle from Hines. A bundle of energy, she preps for races by talking. A varsity cheerleader at Apex, she sometimes warms up with cheer routines. And by talking.
Hines, on the other hand, wants to concentrate, focus and be quiet. He wants to find some shade and warm up for 10 minutes or so.
Naturally, that’s when Murphy seeks him out to talk.
Hines eventually pays her back with his own gymnastic moves. His flexibility is amazing as is his ability to perform various flips. He has a youtube.com post where he catches a football as he is making a 720 degree turn.
When Hines shows off his flips, Murphy critiques his moves and often tells him that he isn’t doing a particular stunt correctly. He’ll counter for her to show him how. She’ll admit that she can’t do it either.
But she can take her foot, wrap it around her head and point her toe at him.
“Crazy,” Hines said.
They have been carrying on for years, but their friendship was particularly helpful in the last year when they were making their college decisions. They were each recruited by schools from throughout the country.
Murphy and Hines texted each other throughout the process, seeking some normalcy as their worlds turned upside down with a seeming endless stream of telephone calls and messages from recruiters and reporters.
“I’m a girl and I run track. That is about as inconsequential as it gets, but my recruiting process was crazy,” Murphy said. “I can’t imagine what Nyheim went through.”
Murphy was told not to give out her private telephone number. Only a handful of coaches got it late in the recruiting process.
Hines, on the other hand, learned the hard way that when one of the nation’s top football running back prospects gives his number to one person it is the same as giving it to everyone.
“In football, they share numbers,” he said.
The same questions
The result was a stream of calls and texts that was at times almost constant – 50 or more some days. They seemed to come at the worst times, often when he would have preferred to be in his pre-calculus or chemistry class.
“If I made a campus visit, I would get at least four or five calls and would answer the same four or five questions each time,” he said. “It got repetitive, and they called day and night. I got so I knew what they were going to ask, and I’d say the exact same thing every time.”
He surprised himself when he decided to sign with N.C. State. He always figured he’d go away to school. A drive for an unofficial visit to Ohio State dissuaded him of that notion. “Too far from home,” he said.
He liked North Carolina for a while – “when they had Tyler Hansbrough” – then Clemson and then Duke, but decided about a week before his announcement that he would join the Wolfpack. “It is a great decision,” he said.
Hines stretched his recruitment over months, but Murphy did the bulk of hers in two weeks, visiting Duke, South Carolina, North Carolina, Harvard and Miami in quick succession. The more she visited, the more she wanted to spend more time with the people she met at Duke. The final choice was Duke or Harvard. She chose Duke.
“We were the ones that were going away to school,” she said. “And WE stayed home.”
Then she flashed an insincere moonstruck look at Hines and opened wider the eyes that helped her have a spin in professional modeling in Los Angeles when she was a ninth grader. They both laughed.
Now about that ring.
Murphy won three N.C. High School Athletic Association state track titles during her junior year and received rings. There will be more rings for the titles she won this year.
Hines said she had enough rings, enough jewelry. She disagreed. She needed more. He said he’d never be able to afford to buy her a ring, but if he ever won one, he’d give it to her.
So last winter when he won the NCHSAA 4A indoor 55 meters championship – running on a fractured leg – he unabashedly screamed with pure joy.
And in that moment of happiness, he sought out his friend, dropped to one knee and invited her to enjoy it with him.
There is no romance, but it is a most special friendship.