Now, though, it seems as if some light has been shed on the so-called demons with which the 14-time X-Games gold medalist was struggling with. A doctor at the University of Toronto has reportedly concluded that Mirra was suffering from CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – at the time of his death.
The brain disease, which can only be definitively diagnosed postmortem, is known to derive from repeated head injuries, such as concussions or recurring collisions and trauma inflicted on the brain. In Mirra’s beloved sport, concussions were not at all uncommon, as they go hand in-hand with the risk riders take hurling themselves tens of feet above the ground, laying it on the line at the price of their bodies like the Miracle Man famously did in pursuit of BMX’s first double backflip in competition.
ESPN broke the story of Toronto neuropathologist, Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, confirming the prevalence of CTE in samples of Mirra’s brain.
The tau protein deposits found in Mirra’s brain were indistinguishable from the kind that have been found in the brains of former football and hockey players with CTE, Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, the Toronto neuropathologist, told ESPN The Magazine.
“I couldn’t tell the difference,” she said. “The trauma itself defines the disease, not how you got the trauma.”
The trademark tau protein deposits were found in the frontal and temporal lobes of Mirra’s brain.
“It’s assumed it is related to multiple concussions that happened years before,” she said.
Mirra, who was 41, suffered a fractured skull when a car hit him at age 19, and he dabbled in boxing after his retirement from BMX. But he also endured countless concussions during his BMX career, beginning at a young age.
Notable NFL players, including Junior Seau, were also confirmed to have been suffering from the disease after taking their own lives. Tragically, the symptoms include memory loss, depression, and dementia, which often occur much earlier in life than the norm for those affected.
In what sounds like a heartbreaking interview set to appear in ESPN The Magazine‘s June 6 issue, Dave Mirra’s widow, Lauren, talks about the noticeable personality changes seen in her husband during his final months.
“I started to notice changes in his mood. And then it quickly started to get worse,” Lauren said. “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?’
“This is the beginning of bringing awareness. 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.”
If anything, Dave Mirra’s life and unheralded accomplishments in the world of extreme sports should serve as creedence that much more work needs to be done when it comes to proerly understanding, diagnosing, treating, and preventing the horrible disease that is CTE.
Its exposure has been documented across boxing, football, hockey, and now, extreme sports, and it’s certainly something athletes at least need to be cognizant and aware of when they take to the field or, as was often in Mirra’s case, the vert ramp.