I did not know Dave Mirra well. But I feel an emptiness because of his death. And it is an emptiness I have felt before. It is the emptiness I feel every time I see a ghost bike on the side of the road. Seeing those riderless bikes parked - permanently - on the side of the road makes me think about how close I came to having one of my own. That could have been me. And the reason it was not had nothing to do with my own actions. I am here because of the actions of a friend who at the time was a total stranger.
Likewise, reading about Dave Mirra's death by suicide - there was an interesting discussion on our forum about saying "death by suicide" rather than "committed suicide" because it acknowledges that very often suicide is not something that you truly have control over - also made me think that it could have been me. I struggled with depression for quite a few years, and to some extent, I think that, like alcoholism, it's not something you necessarily ever really cure, but that in the best cases, you learn to control it rather than having it control you.
I think that the biggest reason that I was never found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound is that I never owned a gun. The concept of the "But-For" - more formally the "sine qua non" ("that without which not") - is a legal test to determine cause. Typically, it's related to injury, but it works just as well for positive - life-saving rather than life-threatening - acts. But for Tom Sanchez's hand inside the hole in my neck, I would be dead. But for the lack of a gun, I could have shot myself. Really, though, it was but for the help of friends and family. Without that, I don't know where I'd be. I know where I was at my lowest spot, spending the milenial New Year's in a psychiatric ward. I didn't want to kill myself, but I also worried that I didn't care enough about not dying that I might have done something where my own death was the end result.
The late, great David Foster Wallace, typically, put this more eloquently than I ever could - "The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling."
That terror manifests itself in different ways, but it seems to regularly manifest itself in a similar way among elite athletes and other "high achievers." I think that people who excel often struggle the most with the fundamental idea of being good enough. I think the terror Foster Wallace describes is a terror of failing to measure up to one's own standards. I know that terror first-hand, though it was hard to make sense of at the time. The Australian cyclist Loren Rowney wrote a phenomenal piece about this idea in the wake of Dave's death here: www.thepelotonbrief.com/loren-rowney-achilles-heel/ She writes, "The problem being, I feel, is we have too much, and we are always wanting more: nothing is ever good enough. Particularly with elite athletes, we only know how to function at the highest level. We base everything we do on performance, we judge ourselves, we compare ourselves, and to be honest, it can become quite exhausting." I do not know if this was the case with Dave, though I hope that when she feels ready, his wife Lauren may let us know. But it's hard not see that in the man who was the winningest X-Games athlete of all time, who then turned to rally car driving where he also excelled, and who then turned to triathlon with a passion for that made me think on many occasions just how lucky I am to do it as a job.
And Mirra's passion was even larger than sport. Even more inspirational was his passion for his family. His #BeADadNotAFad movement on social media was the rare hashtag that actually spoke to something larger and something concrete. It was something that I bought into and actually thought about in a real way in my life. I only met Dave a couple times, but his constantly upbeat message made me want to be a better father to my son and daughters, the way he so clearly was to his two girls. It was impossible not to be inspired by Dave Mirra.
But I am left wondering if that relentlessly inspiring drive of Dave exceeding every conceivable bar wasn't at least in part Dave trying desperately just to measure up to his own expectations for himself. Dave Mirra seemed to get more out of life than seemed possible. But maybe that wasn't enough for him. Because maybe he never could see himself the way others saw him. My best friend Simon Whitfield, another man who is relentless in his drive to get an almost impossible amount of life, recently told me, "Comparison is the root of all evil." This wasn't his own thought though. It was the thought of someone close to him, sent as criticism of that relentlessness. Nothing was ever good enough. It could always be better. That's what led to an Olympic gold, an Olympic silver, a Commonwealth gold, 14 World Cup wins, and four Olympic Games. It's also something that has cost him in his personal life. And it has cost me in my own. And I wonder if it cost Dave Mirra everything in his.
I have no answers here. I am just trying as so many seem to be to comprehend this loss. I wrote on Twitter upon hearing the news of Dave's death that, "[it's] hard to make sense of this because it doesn't make any sense." And that's still true. On many - most - levels, a devoted father and loving husband - which Dave clearly was - doesn't take his own life. But on another level, it does make sense. It makes sense that someone who strived - who clearly needed - to excel in everything he did could feel like he wasn't even close to the best. It makes some strange sense how he could have felt that he simply wasn't even good enough.
Karl Marx famously wrote, "Life is struggle." And remembering that is one way in which comparison can be the root of something positive - a way to help us all help each other by seeing how similar we are, rather than how different. No matter how great someone's life seems. No matter how much better or more perfect than our own it may appear. Everyone has their struggles. Everyone has their demons. Everyone has their dark days. And but for the willingness both to ask for and to offer help, that struggle might very well overwhelm anyone.
Rest in peace, Dave. To the many whose lives you touched in ways big and small, you were way more than good enough.
Do you need help? I've listed resources below for the countries that make up the bulk of our readership, but many countries offer similar resources that can be found easily on the web. Don't go it alone.
In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255. 24 hours, 7 days a week. Online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
In Canada, you can find your local Crisis Center online at suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide/find-a-crisis-centre/