Toronto doctor, underwater photographer and athlete Lucas Murnaghan dies

·3 min read
Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, who was renowned for his underwater photography, died early Tuesday at the age of 45. (Chee Sim/Submitted by Antonio Lennert - image credit)
Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, who was renowned for his underwater photography, died early Tuesday at the age of 45. (Chee Sim/Submitted by Antonio Lennert - image credit)

Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, who captured striking underwater photos, practised orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children and co-owned Canadian surfing shop Surf the Greats, has died. He was 45.

In a heart-wrenching message posted on Instagram Tuesday, Murnaghan's longtime partner and Surf the Greats founder and CEO Antonio Lennert mourned the loss of the man he loved. Murnaghan died of bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma.

"Today, I lost the love of my life," Lennert wrote. "Not only the love of my life, I lost my greatest mentor, my business partner, my best friend."

In a Ted Talk from March of 2020, Murnaghan recounted his life in his own words — from his drive to follow in his family's footsteps and become a doctor, to his struggles coming out as a gay man, to the peace that water brought him, even as a young boy.

"Water has always been my place of refuge," Murnaghan said. "When all the world around me was too much to bear, I could sink beneath the surface, and everything else would slip away."

Murnaghan completed his undergraduate and medical degrees at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and did his orthopedic residency at the University of British Columbia.

His clinical practice at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children spanned a decade, from 2009 to 2019. Dr. Peter Ferguson, chair of the department of Orthopedics at the University of Toronto, said in a post on the university's website that Murnaghan's entire medical practice was centred on the idea of "growing athletes."

"He worked diligently with pediatric and adolescent patients — many of whom went on to play collegiate and professional sports — to help them achieve their athletic goals," he wrote. Ferguson added that Murnaghan was also an athlete who "chased his interests with vigour," competing in marathons, triathlons and bike rallies.

Murnaghan was well known for his striking underwater photography, capturing his subjects in the stillness of the water. The themes of his photographs run from fun pop culture references to sensuality to serious and thoughtful moments. Those photos netted him over 119,000 Instagram followers.

In his Ted Talk, Murnaghan said that he didn't use breathing aids when shooting his photos in an effort to push for a more organic connection between himself and his subjects.

"Going back to when I was a kid, I can remember that feeling of being underwater and imagining different worlds," he told CBC Arts in 2018. "It was a place where I really felt an incredible sense of calm and quiet."

In his post on Instagram, Lennert recounted the life the couple lived together after meeting in a chance encounter in California 14 years ago. Through Murnaghan's health issues, the two shared many experiences and travelled extensively.

Lennert said Murnaghan took his final breaths at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

"As I sit here next to him and write this letter, I feel a sense of relief that he will no longer suffer, and find comfort in the fact that his memories will stay with us forever," he said.

"I'm as heartbroken as many many people will be, but time will heal us and his legacy will never be forgotten."

During his Ted Talk, Murnaghan said his life had been full of turning points. He advocated fiercely for people to chase their dreams and not let themselves be pigeonholed by a single interest.

"We are so much more than we, or anybody else, thinks that we are," Murnaghan said.

"Because in the end, the only story you can tell is your own."