Dave Mirra, the BMX pioneer who took his own life in February at the age of 41, was reportedly suffering from a brain trauma disease associated with high-impact sports when he died.
A doctor from the University of Toronto, whose findings are said to have been corroborated by other neuropathologists, says that Mirra, winner of an X Games medal every year bar one from 1995 to 2009, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), reports ESPN.
The condition, which results from repeated head trauma such as concussions, can lead to depression, memory loss and dementia, has been diagnosed in athletes in sports such as boxing, American football and ice hockey.
Mirra is believed to be the first BMX rider to be associated with it and according to neuropatholgist Dr Lili-Naz Hazrati, a specialist in the condition, tau protein deposits in his brain are the same as those found in athletes diagnosed with the condition.
Other physicians are said to have confirmed the findings of the Toronto-based doctor, who added: “It validates what we have been thinking about brain injuries in boxers and football players.”
“The key is brain injury. Regardless of how you get it, through BMX or hockey, you are at risk for this.”
Mirra, married with two children, committed suicide in February in Greenville, North Carolina. Besides his BMX career – he was the first rider to land a double backflip and 360 no-handed backflip – he competed in rallying, Ironman and boxing, and was part of a Race Across America-winning four man relay team.
In March, his wife Lauren was told that he had been suffering from CTE. In an extensive interview, she told ESPN: “I couldn’t tell the difference. The trauma itself defines the disease, not how you got the trauma. It’s assumed it is related to multiple concussions that happened years before.”
“I started to notice changes in his mood. And then it quickly started to get worse. He wasn’t able to be present in any situation or conversation, so it was hard to be in a relationship with him to any degree.
“He was lost. I looked straight through him on a few occasions. And I was like, ‘Where are you? Where are you? What is wrong?’”
She hopes that her husband’s death will help others in a similar situation.
“This is the beginning of bringing awareness,” she said. “It would be amazing if this is something we can detect in life one day. If we can detect it, prevent it, stop it, let’s do all of the above.”
The Samaritans can be reached on 116 123.
This tribute video was posted to YouTube in the days after Mirra's death.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.