Four years ago, former X Games BMX Dirt Gold Medalist Stephen Murray suffered a career-ending injury at the 2007 Dew Tour in Baltimore, Md., while attempting a double backflip, the trick that won him X Games gold in 2001.
Murray landed on his head and crushed his C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. As a result, Murray was paralyzed below the shoulders.
"The freak accident, I landed on my neck, actually flatlined three times. I went down, and I just died on the dirt," said Murray in April of this year.
Murray underwent surgeries in the days after the accident to fuse together bones in his spine and to prohibit any future movement of the spinal cord. After a month in Baltimore, he was transferred to a hospital in Denver that specialized in spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
Five months later, he was removed from the ventilator and able to breathe on his own. And close to a year later, he returned to his home in Riverside, Calif.
"Dealing with a spinal cord injury, it's cruel, torture, you have to be removed from it, there are no easy days, every day is hard," said Murray in a 2009 interview in Ride UK BMX Magazine.
Luckily, Murray had help. Aaron Cooke formed the Athlete Recovery Fund to aid Murray with mounting medical bills, Murray was introduced to Dr. John McDonald of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and with the help of family and friends, Stay Strong Apparel was formed.
Along the way, life didn't get easier. Murray's wife and mother of their two children left him, and his American visa had run out (Murray was born in Newcastle, UK). But Stephen Murray continued to fight. And with the help of the BMX community, who continues to support Stay Strong and Murray through various jams and fundraising drives, Murray remains a vital part of the BMX scene.
"I can move my hand slightly. If I concentrate sometimes, I have small movement and control in my foot, you have to have the perseverance and tenacity to want to break out of the situation," says Murray. "My mind tells me to get better, dodge bullets, move mountains and that's what I'm gonna do."
Although Stephen Murray might not be lined up at the top of the starting hill on the Dew Tour dirt course, he continues to inspire us all, and remind us that giving up is simply not an option in life.
"I'm gonna get better however long it takes," says Murray.
It's been a rough four years for Murray, but he's changed BMX for the better, and we all owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his endless contributions to the community. Stay Strong, Stephen Murray.