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3:33 Sports Short #6 // On Dave Mirra's Death

by Nathan Sindelar

This week's first 3:33 Sports Short is a meditation on the death of BMX superstar Dave Mirra at the age of 41. It comes courtesy of Nathan Sindelar, a current graduate student at Creighton University, and a former Prairie Schooner intern. The internship program is a big part of the work we do here at Prairie Schooner. We're lucky to get a new crop of talented young people to help out every semester, and we're excited to see what interesting directions their lives will take them. Very happy to be publishing Nathan today. If you want to read more great sports writing, become a subscriber, and we'll mail you our Winter Sports Issue. We're running a belated Valentine's Day special this week. Four issues for $25, and each subscription includes a handwritten Valentine from someone on our staff. Click here to subscribe.

In his biography, Dave Mirra, professional BMX superstar, ranked getting hit by a car as the second-worst crash of his life.

The driver was drunk, underage and doing forty-five. Mirra, 19 at the time, had just stepped from a restaurant in upstate New York, holding a slice of pizza. He spent six months recovering—only after slipping into a coma, after the discovery of a blood clot in his brain.

His doctor said if the sport were football, Mirra would never again see the field. This was not acceptable, nor, being an individual’s sport, was it enforceable. Mirra would ride again, and he would win, among other awards, fourteen gold medals at the sport’s most prestigious contest: the X Games. He would come to be known as Miracle Boy, see signature video games release and become cult hits. He’d marry and see the birth of two children.

On February 4, 2016, Mirra, 41, died from a self-inflicted gunshot. For reasons I can’t place, I am not awash in my many fond memories of his life and triumphs. I remember highlights—no-handed double-back flips, flair-whips—and have, since the news, revisited the soundtracks of his games, where a decade and a half ago I first heard bands like Social Distortion, Dropkick Murphys, and Deftones. I remember the thrill of watching a perfect run unfold during the X Games, my brother and I on our feet in the living room, laughing our awe was so exquisite.

Yet, while these moments come to mind, and their nostalgia aches, I am, instead, left thinking mostly of the girl who hit Mirra with her car. The one I read about as a kid in his biography, Mirra Images. What’s it like to have featured so dramatically in the life of someone so well-known? If she’s alive, she is a woman by now, and wherever this woman might be, she has likely seen the news, and what, after all, must that feel like?

A lot of people make passing connections with the famous, but she connected in a permanent way. Since the accident, has she seen her life’s trajectory in reciprocal to Mirra’s? In contrast? Where he ascended into stardom, she slipped into ordinary anonymity. What’s it like to watch that happen? Maybe she followed him on Instagram.

With discussions of degenerative brain disease, CTE, already echoing through the commentariat, I wonder what links—legitimate or not—she might be drawing between his brain and herself, between the act of putting a bullet in one’s head, alone in his truck, and a mistake she made twenty-two years ago. If I could venture a guess, I’d say it hurts, and in a way not easily put to words. And while I write from a spectator’s distance only, I wonder if she feels proximity. A closeness, brought closer still with news of his suicide. I wonder why the twelve-year-old in me, awake reading past his bedtime again, thinks primarily of an unnamed girl, drunk in her car.

Nathan Sindelar attends Creighton University’s MFA program, where his emphasis is prose fiction. He graduated in 2014 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BA in English.