Mark Mainz/Getty Images for T-Mobile
Mark Mainz/Getty Images for T-Mobile
Even if you aren't big into BMX biking, chances are you knew who Dave Mirra was.
The athlete was an X Games legend who, up until a few years ago, held the record for most-ever medals won by a single person; he won the 2014 Race Across America and had just competed in his first full Ironman race last year; he hosted the Real World/Road Rules Challenge; he was the face of his own series of video games; and he was absolutely beloved in North Carolina, where he helped turn Greenville into a destination for BMX riders.
He was known as "Miracle Man."
And now he's dead, at 41, having apparently shot himself in his truck after visiting with friends in Greenville, according to police.
"Dave's wife and family are shocked and saddened by the loss of such a remarkable person whom they loved so deeply," Steve Astephen, Mirra's agent and a longtime family friend, said in a statement Friday. "Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers and for respecting their privacy through this difficult time."
Mirra's loved ones and friends will wonder what they could have done and rack their brains for the signs that they missed. And many more, including fellow riders and countless fans, will remain perpetually stunned that this champion, one of the toughest in his sport, who seemingly had it all—including a wife and two daughters—was in so much pain.
Answers will remain elusive, because there's nothing simple about a person's life, particularly someone like Mirra who accomplished so much, was admired by so many and gave so much to the people around him.
"You know, [being] a lifetime athlete, I think, is great, but most importantly I think that I just understand going on feeling, of how my body feels," Mirra said in an interview posted just yesterday on YouTube in which he discussed swimming and running for triathlons, and how doing both were sometimes frustrating because he knew he wasn't doing either one perfectly.
"I don't like not being good at something based on technique and things that are hidden, so I'm always looking for answers, flipping rocks over."
Obviously he had the biking leg of the race down.
Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic
Mirra turned pro at 18 in 1992, won his first X Games gold medal in 1996 and would go on to win 24 medals throughout his career, 14 of them gold. He was the first BMX star to land the double backflip at the X Games, in 2000, and a 360 no-handed backflip in 2009.
Mirra was easily one of the most famous faces of extreme sports, let alone freestyle BMX, and with riches and fame came the inevitable criticism from some fellow riders that he was a sell-out.
"I think it's their sour grapes," Mirra told BMXTRIX in an interview. "They're not happy—it's their problem. I'm happy doing what I love to do. I think a lot of those guys haven't even ridden half as long as I have. They can say whatever they want about me cuz' it ain't gonna hurt me, you know?"
But even though he was destined to compete on two wheels, he had to battle back from nearly day one. In 1993, he was hit by a drunk driver, a "gnarly accident," as he described to Gear Patrol just last year while he was training for the July 2015 Ironman Lake Placid (with designs on qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii).
Mirra didn't go into detail at the time, but that accident left him with a dislocated shoulder, a fractured skull and a bloodclot in his brain.
"They said that if I was a football player, they'd never let me play again," he said about 10 years ago in the DVD series Sentenced to Life, "but I wasn't going to let that control my destiny."
'It was a gnarly accident, so that was a big deal in itself," Mirra put it mildly to Gear Patrol. "But to be honest, it wasn't like the X-Games was around yet and there was huge pressure to keep riding. I obviously love riding, so I lost something important to me, but there was a time when I was thinking, 'What am I doing? Am I going to get a job? Am I going to ride for the rest of my life at fairs and make this kind of money or get a real job?'
"The way timing worked out, I got healthy in 1994, rode in the finals at SCRAP in Chicago and came out and won in the street competition. How crazy is that? And then the next June was X-Games. I moved to North Carolina in 1995. There was a skate park in Greenville and that got me back into the scene riding every single day."
Mirra again suffered life-threatening injuries in 2006 when he crashed during a park practice session, getting ready for the Summer X-Games.
"I did a few practice runs and started to push it a little bit each time," he told Men's Fitness in 2007. "The final hit was a mess. I missed the landing and came down flat. As I leaned back to suck it up, my ass hit the back tire, my bike instantly stopped, and I went straight over the bars to the ground. I basically fell 16 feet straight to my head. Just after I hit the ground, I thought for sure I broke all the ribs on the right side and my sternum was smashed. I couldn't breathe, so a collapsed lung crossed my mind. I knew something was wrong."
He had actually suffered a Grade 4 (out of 5) laceration of his liver.
"I spent two days in ICU and had to stay off my bike for close to four months," Mirra continued. "The biggest challenge is getting back to 100 percent mentally. But after four months off my bike, I was ready to take some chances again. I spent so much time preparing myself in my mind to ride that I was ready to go when the time came."
Mirra took that intensity with him into so-called retirement, when he turned his attention to triathlons.
Once you're in the water for that swim, "there's no quittin', so it's kinda like that's a perfect starter for me, but I love the whole, you know, gettin' up at 4, eatin' a little bit, anticipation," he explained last year. "I love the anxiety, I love the excitement, I love a little bit of fear. I love—everything that I've had in BMX, I have it here. I just don't have the cameras and the people, and like I said, the judgments...the opinions that start to form."
He continued, "One thing I guess I didn't like about that life so much was, opinions are forming but you don't really know...You know, I could walk into a restaurant, everybody would know who I was, but I wouldn't know who they were. So it was an unfair advantage, in a sense. Opinions vary, you know...
"It's cool," Mirra added. "It's great, I loved it when I had it, but it's just fun to go to a whole, totally different direction where I thought I never would."
Scott Gries/Getty Images
Mirra seems to have been his toughest critic, as tends to be the case with so many gifted athletes, artists and others who spend their lives competing or creating something that goes above and beyond what most people can do.
And not surprisingly, the opinions regarding Mirra's achievements, contributions to BMX and what he was like as a person are not particularly varied.
"We mourn the loss today of a great friend and wonderful human being who touched the lives of so many around the world with his gift," Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, who had seen and talked to Mirra earlier that afternoon, said in a statement to reporters. "He called Greenville, North Carolina, home and was as humble a guy talking with kids on a street corner about bikes as he was in his element on the world stage. A young life with so much to offer was taken too soon."
He continued: "This is young man that had a pretty had a pretty rugged sports career and took a lot of injuries in his career. You have to give pause, think and wonder as we hear about brain trauma in football and other sports, whether that played a factor. I don't know if that's a case."
Aside from Thomas' statement, speculation has already begun as to whether Mirra suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the disease that's been found in the brains of a number of deceased former football players that doctors have linked to repeated hits to the head.
"You never know, to what degree someone is hurting, on the inside," Thomas later wrote on Facebook. "Still can't process today's events.... what happened at 3:45. We never know, the weight some feel on their shoulders--- or the circumstances. I wish I could've picked up on something---anything, go back to Dave and just put an arm around him. Say, 'look brother you have two beautiful girls who need you. Nothing is more important than that. We will get this figured out.'"
"Goodbye Dave Mirra, a true pioneer, icon and legend. Thank you for the memories... we are heartbroken," skateboarding icon Tony Hawk tweeted upon hearing the news.
Yesterday, hours before his death, Mirra posted three times on Instagram: First, a pic of two boxers in the ring with the caption, "Fight to win! We all have a battles to fight. Never back down. Love you all. #diewithyourbootson." Then a photo of him with his wife of 10 years, Lauren, captioned, "My rock! Thank god."
The third (a repost from three years ago according to BMX News) was a picture of a plaque commemorating him being BMX Plus! magazine's Freestyler of the Year in 2001. You can the reflection of Mirra snapping the pic with his phone.