Risk is inherently all around us; something everyone sees and feels in one way or another. For some, it’s magnified in seemingly trivial everyday occurrences, and would no doubt render them incapable of even comprehending the thought of entering the world of action sports. Risk could be thought of as a gatekeeper of sorts in action sports, deterring many with a lower risk propensity from taking part. It’s an element not exhibited to the same degree in many other sporting disciplines, giving a certain appeal and a high level of respect to action sport athletes.
Stephen Murray learned from an incredibly young age that risk couldn’t be a burden of the mind. It wouldn’t have won him any championships, brought him to California, or skyrocketed his BMX career. For action sport athletes, specifically BMX riders, talent is only part of the equation, albeit the most important. But the other proportionately important part, is the mental toughness needed to attempt each run, push the limits, progress, overcome adversity and ultimately succeed to a high level.
Outside of the BMX world, the casual observer might not understand why riders attempt the types of tricks they do, often throwing around words such as “reckless” or “crazy” to describe the sport.
“There may be people who feel that BMX is reckless, however, I think that getting into a car under the influence of drugs or alcohol is reckless,” says Stephen. “People with this opinion of recklessness don’t bother to think about the countless hours of practice and determination behind an athlete on a bike.”
It’d be naive to think that the risk factor isn’t an attractive pull for many athletes. Living in an ever increasingly sanitized, risk-averse society, the inherent danger of these sports provides a rush of adrenaline, heightening one’s senses to a level they normally wouldn’t feel. It’s what makes us human and propels evolution. But even with all of the risk, it’s mitigated through calculated preparation and countless repetition. Behind every trick thrown are unfathomable amounts of training put in by professional athletes.
But even after logging thousands of hours of practice, after measurements, precision, and precaution have all been taken into account, accidents and crashes remain inevitable in a sport like BMX. So, how does one prepare for this? Stephen chalks it up to life, saying:
“No matter what you do, injuries are inevitable. So do what you do and love what you’re doing. Take the bad with the good, the ups with the downs, because I think if you prepare for an injury, you prepare to fail.”
Over his professional career, Stephen suffered from “too many concussions to remember”, broken clavicles (both), scapular, scaphoid, a carpal bone, tibia, fibula, a fractured coccyx, and torn ligaments. Though nothing would compare to the day his life changed.
On June 22, 2007, while competing at the Dew Action Sports Tour BMX Dirt Finals, Stephen had a freak accident, crashing while attempting the double backflip on his third run. This was the trick that earned him an X Games Gold Medal in 2001, and one that he had landed so many other times before. But ask Stephen or any other rider for that matter, and they’ll tell you that no matter how many times they’d landed it, the double backflip is still as equally sketchy and gut-wrenching as the first time they’d attempted it. On that last attempt though, the end result for Stephen was a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down and sending shockwaves through the BMX world.
Through all the adversity though, Stephen’s story remains a victorious one. 8 years later and Stay Strong is quite literally Stephen Murray’s life motto. There isn’t a man with more courage and dedication, even after all of the difficulties the world has offered him. His piece of advice for those athletes worried about possible injury, or any negative outcome:
“If you are thinking of a career ending or life altering injury, or even discussing it with others, then it’s already game over. Time to hang up the helmet.”
Think positive. Stay strong.
Follow along as we continue to recount all aspects of Stephen's amazing story. In the meantime, be sure to check out the latest products hitting the shop. From now through the end of September, 10% of your purchase will go towards supporting Stephen Murray.
Joseph Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, VA. He received his BS in Creative Advertising from Virginia Commonwealth University. In between writing editorials and content pieces, Joseph is currently training for his first half marathon, though his love for snacks may stunt his performance. www.josephhuntermiller.com