Dave Mirra won an unprecedented 14 gold medals as a BMX competitor at X Games before retiring from competition in 2011. Then he did something nobody in his sport could have predicted: He set his BMX bike aside altogether and never looked back, focusing instead on his new rallycross racing career, his wife and kids and new pursuits like amateur boxing and Ironman triathlons. XGames.com caught up with him just before this week's finale to the 2013 Global RallyCross series in Las Vegas for the scoop on leaving BMX behind, parting ways with Subaru -- his longtime rally sponsor -- and what's ahead for one of the fiercest competitors and biggest personalities in action sports.
XGames.com: A lot of people were surprised when you weren't on the X Games invite list for BMX in 2011, after being a dominating presence since the very beginning, and were even more surprised to see it turn into a full-on retirement. What's your level of involvement in BMX these days?
Mirra: You know what, I really haven't ridden much. I've probably ridden three times in the last two and a half years, and to be honest I don't really miss it. I had a great run and I loved the years that I did compete and all the success that I had, but it felt good to walk away from it.
What was the turning point?
For me it came down to risk versus reward; my mental stance on it was that I always loved to progress, first and foremost. It was never going to be that fun for me to go on riding on a plateau level and not keep progressing, but by the same token I got to a point where I really couldn't take getting injured anymore in the name of progression. It put me in a stalemate. I probably could have milked BMX for a lot longer if I'd really wanted to, but that's not my style.
Some of my BMX fans on Instagram and whatever can be really vocal and really brutal about me walking away, especially now that I've been getting into triathlons and other sports, but the truth is I didn't want to be out there just rolling around to make endorsement money when I could no longer be at my best. It just didn't seem right for me or for BMX, and I wouldn't want to hear what the fans would be saying now if I'd done that, either.
I'm shocked to hear you say you don't miss it, though. Had it become some kind of love/hate thing?
It's just that it's really nice to not have to worry about injury on a day-to-day basis, and I had a lot of injuries. It's awesome to look back at what I accomplished in BMX, but right now I'm also looking forward to what I have ahead in other sports and on other fronts. Still, though, I don't understand some of the criticism and comments I've heard. I don't know what more I owe anybody or owe BMX; I started BMX just to ride, back when there was no money in it, and I went all or nothing for as long as I could take it. I helped the sport, helped myself and had a good time doing it. When I was done, I was done. What more can you do?
What attracted you to racing triathlons? I understand you've been competing in some of the 70.3-mile Ironman events.
The triathlon thing is really cool to me because it's really all about heart and hard work. It's not about anything else. You don't go to a triathlon and pray for good luck or good judging or anything else, like you might going into a BMX contest. You just go there and you know how hard you've worked and how much you've put in, and that's going to be reflected in your result. I've never been a runner, I've never been a swimmer and I never spent much time on a road bike, but I'm willing to put the work in and I've got some big personal goals for next year.
You always trained hard for BMX. How much of that carries over?
More than anything, what carried over is the mental toughness I developed, the confidence to go out there and try new things and grind through. But training-wise it's very different: BMX was really anaerobic -- you'd go all out for maybe 90 seconds and then take a rest -- so it was nothing like what these endurance sports are, where it's really about training your aerobic system through frequency and consistency and intensity. After all the injuries I had in BMX, especially the PCLs [posterior cruciate ligaments] in my knees, I love that I can still go out, challenge myself with these triathlons and even be competitive in my age group. I'm never going to dominate or be the overall winner, like I did in BMX, but it feels good just to be able to hang, to be another age-grouper battling it out.
Speaking of intensity and battling it out, we saw you really blow up in frustration at that last GRC event in Charlotte. Can you talk about some of what built up to that?
It was a lot of things. I'd parted ways with Subaru after six years and had a chance to race in the Mini RX that was developed for Liam Doran. I really think it's the best car out there, and here I had a chance to prove myself in it. Subaru had been working super hard to get a car to be competitive with those Fords and some of the other cars out there, and it can be frustrating because there's a lot of money in all of those cars and it's not really an even playing field; it can be like showing up to a basketball court where everyone else is seven feet tall!
So here was this chance to finally prove myself. I won the practice heats and then qualified in second, in a car I'd only driven for a total of about five hours. Then I got a bad call on a false start and had to go to the Last Chance Qualifier -- exactly where I didn't want to be -- and then got tangled up with Tanner Foust and that was that. It really pissed me off. All due respect to Tanner, because he's a great driver, but it was a bad decision on his part to try to race after the crash he had earlier. Why would you put other drivers at risk like that?
Tanner apologized for the incident on TV. Was there any resolution between the two of you?
I didn't see that until I got home and watched the telecast. I mean, I appreciate it. But the fact is it looked like a demolition derby on the dirt track in Charlotte, and that's not racing to me. He said later he had a sticky throttle and it was a mechanical problem, but that doesn't give me that race back, you know? I had a lot riding on that day, but that's just the way it goes. I know it's happened to other drivers and will keep happening, and I'm just fortunate to be able to get another chance in the Mini in Vegas.
How do you channel that rage to go from being as mad as you were in the moment to now being able to say, calmly, "That's just the way it goes"?
I think I need a little more practice on that! I guess I just try to find the balance between being fired up and trying to be a good role model for my daughters.
Are they getting into BMX or otherwise taking after dear old dad yet?
I have two daughters, ages 5 and 7, and they actually rip on their bikes. They're more interested in racing than tricks, and they're out-of-hand fast. We also got a go-kart for them, because they get stoked on watching rallycross, and we've been throwing up some cones in the parking lot. And what's truly amazing is they're also way into triathlons. They're both much better swimmers than I ever was, and they just did a triathlon where the age group was 6 to 8. Maddie got second and Kenzie got third. She's wasn't even 6 yet but they let her race, so that's pretty impressive! It just blows my mind. If they're getting that go-for-it attitude and competitive spirit from me, then I couldn't be more proud.