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Remembering 'Miracle Boy' BMX Rider Dave Mirra

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

To the world of extreme sports and BMX biking now. Those communities are mourning the loss of one of their all-time greats. Dave Mirra, one of the most decorated athletes in X Games history and a father of two, died this week. Police are saying it was an apparent suicide. He was 41 years old. NPR's Nathan Rott has our remembrance.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Dave Mirra had a knack for making the mind-bendingly impossible...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And tailwhip...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No way.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...On the wall-ride...

ROTT: ...Look very possible, even easy. Whether it was pulling off double back flips or clinging to the side of a rail by the width of his bike tire, Mirra could even make his mistakes look good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Laughter) How about that for a save? He didn't mean to do that but hey, make a trick out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: That's why we call him the miracle boy.

ROTT: The miracle boy won 24 medals in the X Games. Fourteen of those were gold. He became so popular that there were two videogames named after him, and he was even selected to host two seasons of an MTV reality show. Born in a small town in upstate New York in 1974, Mirra says in a documentary that he came onto the BMX - or bicycle motocross scene - right as it was blowing up.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED DOCUMENTARY FILM)

DAVE MIRRA: Freestyle BMX was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. It was a movement, and I was part of it.

ROTT: He became a sponsored rider at the age of 13, and quickly made a name for himself inventing and popularizing new moves. In doing so, Mirra pioneered new ground and raised the profile of BMX. In an online interview with The Nasty Show, he said he got bored easily so he was always pushing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE NASTY SHOW")

MIRRA: I like to put myself in positions that are uncomfortable and try to study and work your way out of it.

ROTT: That passion pushed Mirra to pursue other sports as well. He competed in rally car racing at the X Games from 2008 to 2013. His latest interest was in triathlons. Friends of Mirra say that he always had his issues, but he was a competitor. He always got back up. That's part of why the news of his death in an apparent suicide was so shocking to people who knew him and worked with him, like Markis Andrada.

MARKIS ANDRADA: It's a terrible thing to hear.

ROTT: Andrada is a pro BMX rider in Santa Monica, Calif. He's heard the speculation from some people that maybe the physical injuries Mirra endured over his career contributed to his death.

ANDRADA: If you want to push a sport, there's a price for that. So I can imagine where down the line that's going to catch up with you.

ROTT: Andrada says he's thankful for Mirra doing that, pushing the sport along. He's just sad to see him go. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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