Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - KEVIN MACK­IN­NON ED­I­TOR

HOW MANY TIMES have you banged your head over the years? I’m not sure I can count. A num­ber of times play­ing rugby and foot­ball. I lost my mem­ory for a month af­ter get­ting my “bell rung” (the words my coach used when he sent me back out on the ice a lit­tle while later) at 15. Since then there were a few more hits on the rugby field and a few bike crashes, too.

All of which pales in com­par­i­son to the head in­juries col­lege or pro foot­ball and hockey play­ers sus­tain dur­ing their ca­reers. Last year the movie Con­cus­sion, which fol­lows Dr. Ben­net Omalu’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy (CTE) that af­fects a num­ber of foot­ball play­ers thanks to the re­peated head trauma they sus­tain, high­lighted just how dan­ger­ous foot­ball can be for its play­ers.

Ear­lier this year we learned that you don’t have to be in a con­tact sport to be in dan­ger of get­ting CTE – an au­topsy per­formed af­ter he took his life in Fe­bru­ary showed that for­mer X-games star and Iron­man triath­lete Dave Mirra had CTE.

BMX was Mirra’s ticket out of Chit­te­nango, a small town in up­state New York. Even be­fore he was 10 years old he used to ride 20 miles on his BMX bike, with all his equip­ment no less, just to be able to get to a ramp to train on in Syra­cuse. He was al­ways the first kid to the ramp. If the ramp opened at noon, he’d be there at 7 get­ting ready. He had two VCRS and a cam­era so he could watch videos of his BMX he­roes, and also of his own tricks, hon­ing his tech­nique. All that led to an X-games ca­reer that in­cluded 24 medals, 14 of them gold.

You don’t be­come the first per­son to land a dou­ble back flip (in com­pe­ti­tion) with­out fall­ing a few times. And fall­ing hard. Over the years he’d lost his spleen. There was a trip to the ICU and months of re­cov­ery af­ter fall­ing 16 feet off a ramp onto his head. When he was 19 he got hit by a drunk driver and frac­tured his skull, too.

Ac­cord­ing to a story posted on Out­side On­line, some of Mirra’s friends started to no­tice that he wasn’t him­self af­ter he fin­ished Iron­man Lake Placid last year. De­spite hav­ing been of­fered a spot in Kona be­cause of his celebrity sta­tus, Mirra had no in­ter­est in rac­ing at the world cham­pi­onship un­less he qual­i­fied. Just over six months af­ter that he was dead.

I don’t think any­thing would have stopped Dave Mirra from com­pet­ing the way he did. Dur­ing an in­ter­view in March, 2015, he rec­og­nized the in­ten­sity that helped him achieve his sport­ing suc­cess and ac­knowl­edged that it scared him. In 2011, when he signed up for a box­ing match, he spent six weeks liv­ing with his friend Laird Hamil­ton (and Hamil­ton’s wife Gabrielle Reese) in Los An­ge­les. He left his wife, Lau­ren, and two kids Macken­zie and Madi­son back home in North Carolina as he trained six days a week in a box­ing gym on Sun­set Boule­vard.

“This is what scares me about the full dis­tance,” Mirra said. “I just change as a per­son. It’s like a first re­la­tion­ship in high school, where not a sec­ond goes by in the day when you’re not think­ing about the per­son. That’s how I am – with the box­ing and with Placid. I keep liv­ing it in my head.”

Mirra be­came one of Amer­ica’s most fa­mous ath­letes, but it didn’t go to his head. He was sur­prised when I tracked him down for an in­ter­view at the worlds in Mont-trem­blant two years ago. Hum­ble to the ex­treme, he had noth­ing but great things to say about the triathlon com­mu­nity. It wasn’t hard to write great things about him, ei­ther.

Hope­fully his death will bring at least one good thing – more aware­ness about CTE and, pos­si­bly, a cure for the dis­ease at some point. We don’t need to lose any more of the Dave Mir­ras of the world.

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