After BMX biking legend Dave Mirra committed suicide on February 4 of this year, his wife had his brain tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Sadly, the result came back positive, rife with tau proteins dotting both his temporal and frontal lobes after years of enduring an unknown amount of concussive and sub-concussive trauma. This makes Mirra the first action sports athlete to be diagnosed with CTE.
The neuropathologist went so far as to equate the condition of his brain to that of NFL players and other contact sport athletes that have been posthumously diagnosed with the disease. "I couldn't tell the difference," Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati said.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN: The Magazine, Mirra's wife Lauren describes the agonizing final weeks of his life, the transformation of his formerly vibrant personality into something different and darker, prone to wild mood swings and unprovoked crying jags or bouts of exhaustion, his mind clouded and wracked with depression.
"I remember seeing him sitting on our bed one day, in the last month of his life," she said. "I had just gotten out of the shower and saw him hunched over with the blankest lost look. I sat down next to him and held his hand. I said, 'What is wrong? Are you OK?' And he just shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't even speak. He didn't know. He couldn't put it into words. He was lost. He was helpless. It was completely different from who he was."
"He was gone. I could see straight through him," she continued. "It was the hardest thing to see, looking at someone you love, and you can't have a conversation with them, and you can see straight through their eyes."
Lauren Mirra doesn't know what her exact plans might be for the future, but her overarching hope is that she'll be able to find a forum in which to speak out, to encourage best practices and prevention measures, without coming across as an ideologue out to ban action sports altogether.
"Through him we have an opportunity to help and change," she said. "Beauty from ashes. That's how I will always choose to see it."
28 Jun 1997: Dave Mirra performs during the ESPN X Games at Mariners Point in San Diego, California. Mandatory Credit: Harry How /Allsport
Dave Mirra gets ready to backflip his bike into a 4,000 gallon vat of slime on the 15th Annual Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards, at The Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, Ca., 4/20/02. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.
Dave Mirra during Nickelodeon's 16th Annual Kids' Choice Awards 2003 - Arrivals at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, California, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JULY 19: Action sports athlete Dave Mirra at the 'T-Mobile Ramps and Amps Invitational' July 19, 2003 Randalls Isalnd in New York City. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images for T-Mobile)
Dave Mirra during Denzel Washington and Dave Mirra Visit MTV's 'TRL' - July 16th, 2004 at MTV Studios in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic)
Dave Mirra during The Nokia T-Mobile Ramps & Amps Invitational Presented by EXPN.com at South Street Seaport in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic)
Dave Mirra and girlfriend Lauren Blackwell during The Nokia T-Mobile Ramps & Amps Invitational Presented by EXPN.com at South Street Seaport in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 6: Dave Mirra competes in the Bike Stunt Vert competition during the ESPN X-Games on August 6, 2004 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JULY 13: Freestyle biker Dave Mirra arrives at the 13th Annual ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre on July 13, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 3: X-Games Champion Dave Mirra poses at the press day for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, part of the 33rd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 3, 2007 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Doug Gifford/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - AUGUST 03: Bronze medal winner Dave Mirra speaks in a press conference after the Rally Car race during the summer X Games 14 at Home Depot Center on August 3, 2008 in Carson, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)