Dave Mirra beat me in my first competition as an aspiring BMX flatland rider when I was 14. My father had driven me out to some random fairgrounds in Eastern Pennsylvania, where I was as nervous as could be, intimidated to even practice among other BMX riders my age within the 4-H fairgrounds. I shouldn't have been nervous -- it was all semi-local BMX riders that I kind of, sort of knew along the way in my brief BMX travels.
But it was a kid from upstate New York, someone no one locally knew of, who beat me -- who beat all of us. Make that annihilated us. He was tiny, his riding as smooth as glass, and he was successfully completing all of the toughest BMX tricks of the day. The 14-15 Expert Flatland Class of the Pennsylvania-American Freestyle Association was no longer a practice ground for -- well, for those of us who were either 14 or 15 and wanted to practice our BMX skills. It was Dave Mirra's stomping ground. End of story.
I thought I was the best BMX rider in town at my age level. My BMX friends at the time brought me back down from my impending superstardom. "Dave Mirra is better, he's in 'Dorkin' In York 2," they said. (It was the most popular BMX VHS video of the time.) And then something happened. Something that left my defeated ego in the past.
Mirra got really good at riding every type of BMX. So good that he eventually left his BMX Flatland riding in the past and moved on to bigger, better things, such as riding ramps and halfpipes. He transcended the local scene, appeared in the major BMX videos of the time, and became larger than life, all before reaching his junior year of high school. It was 1989, and he was the only 15-year-old sponsored BMX rider in the entire region. Before the Internet and social media, amid the era of long-distance phone calls and copied VHS tapes, Mirra had already arrived as a soon-to-be legend in BMX circles, scraping by for lunch money in school.
That was my first indoctrination to Mirra's BMX riding. And then a new video arrived in 1991 dubbed "Dorkin' 4." Mirra had filled out. He was gaining muscle, and he went from being this scrawny little badass to full-on commander of his BMX bike. He was able to pump the ramp, air higher and land smoother. His helmets finally fit him. He was throwing down insane aerials such as the 540 and developing grinds that were unheard of before his bike hit the ramp in upstate New York. He was transcending little Dave Mirra -- I was failing chemistry, struggling to keep up with the tricks he had done a year earlier in previous "Dorkin' " videos.
I was no Dave Mirra, no one was, and we all watched from the sidelines as he moved from regional hero to top professional in less than a decade. And then his super-human-ness started to make the rounds: Dave Mirra, walking and carrying a pizza, got hit at 45 mph by a drunk driver and lived to tell about it. Dave Mirra drove to Huntington Beach, California, from upstate New York to negotiate a contract with GT Bicycles and when he didn't like it, he drove back to New York in 48 hours. Dave Mirra did double backflips at local competitions not because they were necessary to win, but because he wanted to know that he had them on lock.
Dave Mirra became a superhero. And we all watched from the sidelines as he moved from BMX pro to international sensation. Again, in awe.
Mirra died on Thursday in Greenville, North Carolina. According to police, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He leaves behind his wife, Lauren; their daughters Mackenzie and Madison; and his brother, Tim.
Between the time I came to know of the legend that is Dave Mirra in 1988 and Thursday night, he never failed to astound me with his greatness. More than just a BMX rider who appeared on ESPN during X Games, Mirra was a genuine person who never recognized boundaries and always strove to push himself further than he thought possible. First in BMX, followed by rally racing, and then Ironman races and triathlons. The dude, the "Miracle Boy," was that serious when it came to competitive pursuits.
I remember a time in 2000, I was at Woodward Action Sports Camp in Woodward, Pennsylvania. I want to say it was June. Mat Hoffman and his crew, along with EXPN, has just completed a C.F.B. (Crazy Freakin' Biker) competition that would inevitably lead to qualifying for the X Games. At the time, Mirra had already transcended traditional BMX royalty. He was on ESPN, MTV and doing much better financially than any other BMX riders on the planet. (In full disclosure, I was judging the competition.) And although no judges were giving Mirra a hard time with his scores, Mirra was on top and he thought everyone had placed a target on his back because he was the best, including the judges.
I reminded Mirra of the first time he had beat me in 1988. According to him, he didn't remember the competition or the other riders competing against him at the time. Or so he said. I think he knew I was a little disappointed. He let me sulk for a few moments. And then he smiled, shook his head and retorted. "Of course I remember that comp," he said.
It was all I needed to know that Dave Mirra was not only a brilliant, athletic person, but a deep soul who wore his experience with pride on his sleeve. I'll never forget that smile. I'll never forget that first competition. I'll never forget Dave Mirra's commitment.