Dave Mirra, Instagram

Instagram

When authorities rushed to the scene of BMX legend Dave Mirra's death in February, it appeared that the athlete had passed from an apparent suicide. However, what police and doctors did not know at the time is the 41-year-old was suffering from CTE, a category of brain damage that has been diagnosed in athletes who have continually faced severe blows to the head.

"The Mirra family decided to pursue posthumous neurological testing which included a study for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)," Mirra's publicist Katie Moses Swope told E! News in a statement.

"The study was coordinated by the University of Toronto and the Canadian Concussion Centre under the direction of Lili-Naz Hazrati, M.D., PhD. Leading neuropathologists from the U.S. and abroad unanimously confirmed the diagnosis of CTE." ESPN The Magazine was the first to report the posthumous March diagnosis, which is the first confirmed case in the BMX community.  

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease, has been found to cause memory loss, erratic behavior, impeded speech, depression and can ultimately lead to dementia and suicidal thoughts. 

As E! News reported at the time of Mirra's tragic death, the Greenville Police Department in North Carolina released a statement, saying "Upon arrival, officers discovered Dave Mirra, 41, of Greenville, sitting in a truck with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been visiting friends in the area a short time before the incident."

Hazrati told the magazine that abnormal tau protein deposits seen in other athletes with cases of CTE were "indistinguishable" from those found in Mirra's brain. "I couldn't tell the difference," she told the publication. "The trauma itself defines the disease, not how you got the trauma."

As a professional BMX rider, Mirra faced numerous concussions throughout his career. As well, he fractured his skull in a car accident as a teenager and was a boxer after retiring from the sport in 2011. 

Dave Mirra, Instagram

Instagram

While CTE was originally associated solely with boxers, Dr. Bennet Omalu later discovered a link between the disease and a deceased football player in the early 2000s, proving other athletes involved in contact sports with repeated blows to the head could suffer from the chronic illness as well.  

Mira's wife, Lauren Mirra, identified some of the unexplained changes she witnessed in her husband before his untimely death.  

"He would repeat conversations and topics to the point where it was obvious to the person he was talking to but not to him. He would dwell on a subject and not want to move on from it," she told the magazine. "It was obvious he wasn't himself, to the point where friends and family were concerned."

While the news can help bring some closure to Mirra's family, particularly his wife and two young daughters Madison and Mackenzie, the athlete will be honored for his impressive career as an inductee into the National BMX Hall of Fame in June. In addition to revitalizing the sport, Mirra's family also wants the icon to leave behind a legacy geared toward awareness for the disease, which is still not fully understood. 

"We would like to thank our family, friends and the overwhelming number of Dave's fans who have supported us during this difficult time," Lauren said in a statement to E! News. "We ask for your continued support in honoring Dave's legacy and for your patience as we plan to create a platform for CTE awareness and research."

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