The Tragic Death Of Dave Mirra

Among the unfortunate number of athletes you may not know passed away is the tragic story of the death of BMX legend Dave Mirra. But don't feel bad if you're only finding out now. According to Grit Daily, even the local ABC affiliate forgot about his suicide and reported it again three years after it happened.

The seemingly superhuman bike rider was almost singlehandedly responsible for the popularization of both his sport and its version of the Olympics: the ESPN X Games. Just scroll down the long list of Mirra's X Games Competition History to get an idea of what he did for the competition. He was the winningest athlete in the history of the games with 24 medals — 14 gold, six silver, and four bronze — until the 2013 Munich X Games when skateboarder Bob Burnquist overtook him. Mirra was the first to take home three gold medals from a single X Games, and those of us who lived and breathed BMX in high school will remember him as the first rider to ever land a double backflip. (There's a reason ESPN called him The Miracle Man.)

Watching those phenomenal feats on the street course now come with the tinge of the bittersweet. Even a miracle man doesn't land every trick, and, as he told the X Games in 2013, Mirra switched from BMX to rally car racing because the extreme sport was too hard on his body. It would later be discovered that it was hard on his brain, as well.

CTE led to Dave Mirra's tragic suicide

Dave Mirra committed suicide by gunshot wound on February 4, 2016, and as ESPN would later report, he was the first action sports star to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. You might recognize the condition from its role in the tragic death of Junior Seau and other NFL players. Caused by repeated injuries to the head, CTE causes memory loss, dementia, and depression, which seems to be the deadliest symptom of the disease.

Mirra's wife Lauren saw these symptoms in her husband before his death. "I started to notice changes in his mood," she told ESPN. "The last couple months before he died were really intense ... We didn't know what we were dealing with." He also experienced extreme physical emotional fatigue and would repeat things often in conversation, even to the point where Dave himself noticed there was something wrong. "It was obvious he wasn't himself," she said.

But CTE didn't even come on their radar until just before Mirra's suicide. Concussions were just part of the gig. "I was used to them and used to hearing about them and probably didn't take them seriously," Lauren said. In her defense, not many of us did back then. The problem had only recently been brought to mainstream public attention with the 2015 film Concussion, starring Will Smith, and that framed the issue in light of football, not BMX.

Dave Mirra's death brings up questions about the future of BMX

Even though the CTE connection to Mirra's death wasn't confirmed until a few months afterwards, the nature of his suicide immediately sparked questions within the BMX world. British BMXer Jamie Bestwick told The Guardian the following week about a harrowing accident he had at the beginning of his career. Gravity had brought him back to earth so forcefully that it split his full-face helmet open upon impact. When he came to, he thought he was back home in England, rather than a sports competition on the beach. Still, he got back on his bike the very next day. He said a concussion is an all but invisible injury, unlike a broken bone. "It's like you had a couple too many [drinks], like you had a bit of a hangover. Back then you threw caution to the wind because who cares?"

But, as it turns out, we all should. And it doesn't matter how the concussions happen, either. As The Guardian later reported, Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati — who studied Mirra's cerebral tissue after his death — said she "couldn't tell the difference" between the damage done to the biker's brain and those harmed via other sports like football and hockey. "The trauma itself defines the disease, not who you got the trauma," she said. Hopefully, as we learn more about what happens to your body when you get knocked out, we'll be able to avoid such sports-related tragedies in the future.