It is with great sadness that I halt my X Games recaps for this post.  Most of you probably have heard the news, but in case you haven’t, action sports legend Dave Mirra died yesterday from what appears to be a suicide.  When I was in Aspen, I was thinking about how I hadn’t seen much from him and how I missed his presence. Then I read what happened, and my heart has been aching for his family, his friends, and the community.

I never met Dave, but he was one of the key figures in my early years of watching the X Games and other related contests.  He was the epitome of an athlete, someone who worked hard to reach the top of the podium.  I remember those fierce showdowns with Jay Miron and Jamie Bestwick.  When he pulled the first double backflip in X Games BMX Park, I went nuts.  This was a guy who pushed the limits, the “Miracle Boy”. He took BMX to another level.

Dave was also a friendly face that helped action sports reach a broader audience.  I remember the friendly banter that happened between him, Ryan Nyquist, and Dennis McCoy in the behind-the-scenes features of various BMX tours.  Dave was always like someone who didn’t quit.  When he retired from BMX, he did rally.  After that, he trained for triathlons.    No matter what he did, he put 100% and it showed.

At the end of the day though, it’s not the number of gold medals you have or world records you set.  It’s the impact you have, and last night, I couldn’t help but tear up at all the tribute posts fellow athletes, BMX and other, and even non-action sports folks shared.  He touched so many of us.

Death is an unfortunate aspect of action sports, but Dave’s shocked us all.  It’s one thing to hear about someone having an accident while doing something they live for; it’s another to hear that they’ve taken their own life.  It’s a sobering reminder of how people who seem to have it all, who put on a smiling face, may be hurting deep inside.  I worry about the other athletes because we hardly ever hear about their troubles and because I have to wonder if the effects of brain injury played a role.  That’s something to ponder when our grief has subsided a bit.

A couple days ago, Dave posted on his Instagram: “Fight to win!  We all have a battles [sic] to fight.  Never back down.  Love you all.”.  We might not ever understand what has happened, but we have to try to reach out, to support one another, to push for answers if it can save a life, and to live.  Rest in peace, Dave Mirra.  We’ll miss you, but we’ll never forget you.

From ESPN

From ESPN

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In a few days, I’ll be in Aspen, but before I jet off, I want to make my predictions.  This year’s Dew Tour surprises made it harder for me to settle on a name.  Here’s what I’m going with:

Ski Big Air – Henrik Harlaut
Men’s Ski Slopestyle – Gus Kenworthy
Women’s Ski Slopestyle – Dara Howell
Men’s Ski Superpipe – David Wise
Women’s Ski Superpipe – Maddie Bowman
Snowboard Big Air – Yuki Kadono
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle – Ståle Sandbech
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle – Christy Prior
Men’s Snowboard Superpipe – Iouri Podladtchikov
Women’s Snowboard Superpipe – Chloe Kim

I won’t be doing another post until I get back, but I might just do some quick and dirty updates on my Tumblr or Twitter, depending on the internet situation.

While I hate starting off the year with a downer, I also think it’s important to remember the lives our community has lost.  They would want us to move on, but let’s not forget their contributions.

On May 16, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt died in a wingsuit flight accident at Yosemite National Park.  Potter was a well-known pioneer in climbing and BASE jumping.  Hunt was an up-and-comer in the scene and Potter’s long-time flying partner.

The Nitro Circus family lost one of its own on September 28.  Erik Roner died in a skydiving accident during the opening ceremony of a celebrity golf tournament.  The ski-BASE jumper reached fans from any action sports disciplines due to his involvement with Nitro Circus.

October 1 saw another wingsuit fatality.  Johnny Strange, a BASE jumper and the youngest person to climb the seven summits, died at the age of 23.

In early December, downhill skateboarding and street luge legend Biker Sherlock took his own life.  The link I put includes info on how to donate to his family.

Lastly, Japanese motocross rider Cloud Toda died in a foam pit fire.  He overcame great odds after an accident left him paralyzed from the chest down and was practicing whips in hopes of getting into the X Games.

We will miss all of these individuals, but their spirits live on as we are reminded to seize each day.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I was having a hard time getting into the spirit until I saw a couple of posts from the X Games that gave me the warm fuzzies.

The first is a continuation of a story I shared in my last Facebook Findings post.  The X Games spoke to Jeanean Thomas and her daughter Peyton about the random act of kindness they experienced at the skatepark.  The skater who helped Peyton out has been identified as Ryan Carney, who worked at a skate shop.

Ryan Carney

By Judee Richardson Schofield/ The Cambridge Times

I did a little digging and discovered that this isn’t the first time Ryan has given back to the community.  The Cambridge Times revealed that he participated in a petition to keep the Pipes and Rails skate park open and often tries keep the parks a safe and welcoming place for everyone.  Talk about a great role model!

The X Games Facebook page also shared a video that truly delighted me.  My favorite thing about Christmas is all the different versions of The Nutcracker.  Ballet Austin’s version invites special VIPs play the role of Mother Ginger, a comedic character who has eight gingerbread children pop out of her skirts.  BMX rider Morgan Wade was one of the guest stars this year, and it’s safe to say that he brought a lot of enthusiasm to the role.

This is not much of a picspam since I was only able to attend for a couple hours in the morning and my photos did not turn out great (apparently I’m good at vert shots but not other events).    D-Town Throwdown took place on October 17 in the middle of downtown Dallas and featured three skateboard disciplines: vert, street, and downhill.  On top of the competitions, there was a freestyle motocross demo, concerts, and live art.  There was also a mini-ramp set up for attendees to do some skating of their own.
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The downhill event took place inside a parking garage. Qualifiers ran all day and included a diversity of riders. In the end, Billy Bones took the win with his grandparents watching.
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Trying to catch a shot of racers out of the chute was a bit tricky.

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I’ve seen a few of posts on my Facebook feed featuring women in action sports.  A couple of them even tie into a “Feminism in Action (Sports)” post I am planning to write.  It’s really heart-warming to see female action sports athletes get exposure and my friends championing it.

One that particularly tugged at my heartstrings was a BuzzFeed Canada story that a friend shared.  Jeanean Thomas posted a letter on Twitter to the young man who helped teach her daughter how to skate.
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This is a perfect example of what feminism is.  Jeanean get mega props for letting her daughter know that she has equal  right to be at the skatepark.  The young man was a wonderful ally by going above and beyond to help out this beginner skater even though he was made fun of.  We need to be commending guys like him, not teasing him.  This is how a girl or a boy will develop skills and a new love for skateboarding.  When I was her daughter’s age, I had the same reservations about going to the skate park and thus never went due to lack of support.  As a result, I never went and grew frustrated with learning how to skate.  Maybe others aren’t as easily discouraged, but Jeanean’s daughter got a confidence boost through a kind individual extending a helping hand and not discriminating against her age, skill, and gender.

Another skating post appeared the other day.  My co-worker shared this striking photo, and I knew it had to be the work of Skateistan.
 photo 12278839_10205313294543871_1511743250074323011_n_zpsq5zpyw8h.jpg By Jake Simkin

It’s a non-profit that uses skateboarding to empower youth in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa.  It has particularly reached out to Afghani girls who cannot ride bikes or participate in sports.  I’ll be going in depth into Skateistan in a later post, but I had to share this photo along with my co-worker’s comment that it’s evidence that “people are the same all over the world”.  It’s a message of particular importance in these recent trying times.

Finally, another friend shared a “Women in the World” feature on Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei. I’ll be writing more about her and Noora Moghaddas in a later post too, but they’re badasses for essentially breaking the law to do what they love.  Feminism often involves taking risks, and women like Behanz certainly are with the hopes that there will be more equality in the future.
 photo slack-imgs-1-com_zpsp1msdvgz.jpeg Photo from The New York Times

Unlike many of my fellow Dallasites, going to the State Fair of Texas was never a tradition of mine.  Then I discovered that Big Time Actionsports put on a BMX show every year.  This time I went on a weekend so I had to fight the crowds.  I planted myself in front of the open loop transfer with the hope of getting a sick shot, but that was easier said than done.  The position wasn’t ideal for anything else so I didn’t get many photos.  It was a great learning experience for photography (especially since my settings weren’t good either).

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Pete Brandt with Jimmy Coleman announcing and Mat Olson applauding Read the rest of this entry »

I nearly cried when I read Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story (I probably would have cried if I had been alone in the room).  As a queer-identifying individual, I know how difficult it can be to express that aspect of you.  Anyone who is not a straight, white cis-gendered male is going to have it rough in a lot of places, not just action sports.  Unfortunately our community lags behind in creating more acceptance.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post titled “Action sports need to be more gay”.  Now we have one.  Although I don’t want to take away from what Gus has done, the headlines citing him as the first gay action sports athlete erases the struggles of those who came before him.  In fact, Cheryl Maas took a stance against Russia’s anti-gay policies when she was in Sochi.  For many reasons, that didn’t make huge headlines, and the simple truth was that things haven’t changed until now.  Gus won America’s heart as part of the Men’s Ski Slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi and also as the guy who brought home some puppies (though he clarifies that it was his boyfriend at the time who did most of that), and he more than earned freeski cred by being a five-time Association of Freeskiing Professionals champion.  He fits that privileged mold with the exception of being gay.  In other words, he had a lot to lose and yet a lot of power.

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Photo by Peter Hapak/ ESPN

By sharing his story, Gus has raised awareness of the microaggressions, like using “gay” to mean something “uncool” or automatically assuming that there’s a girlfriend or even this little sketch that implies two men can only be in bed together for comedic purposes.  Those little things hurt, but they’re often hard to see when homophobia is associated with a slur-filled tirade or the Westboro Baptist Church protesting.  Now the action sports community can no longer pretend that a problem with homophobia and toxic masculinity does not exist.  Although contest organizers, sponsors, and other athletes can choose to remain silent or make a bad j, we fans will notice.

For me, I hope that the support means that there can be a safer space not just for LGBTQIA individuals, but anyone who is a minority in the action sports world.  I came into the scene because it promoted “freedom of expression” and united those of us who weren’t into the more popular sports.  I fell out of it partly due to the realization that I’d been seeing a facade.  My liberal politics have distanced me from my old motocross message board buddies; I can’t be myself around them when I’m not sure how they’ll respond to my interest in feminism or queer politics.  The day before Gus’ story broke, a photo of my drag king alter-ego with a skateboard on Instagram received a homophobic slur.  I brushed it off as some immature teenager or self-loathing adult with nothing better to do, but whey should we let anyone get away with such hateful actions?  To be a community, we have to help one another.

And that’s what I will be watching for.  We’ve taken the first step by listening to Gus’ story and Tweeting out our support.  Being an ally is more than that.   I’m still learning and constantly checking my privilege (because even if I identify with the LGBTQIA spectrum, my queerness is not always apparent or as big of a difference as my being female in a male-dominated world).  We’ve got to work together, and I have hope that a bunch of action sports fans will find the courage to be themselves.  Because that is what I feel like I can do even more now.  I don’t know if I’m making it to Aspen for Winter X this year, but if I do, you bet I’m gonna be waving a giant rainbow flag.

A couple weeks ago, I attended the ConTex Kickoff Brunch.  It was mostly an introduction to the program, which aims to study mild, sports-related traumatic brain injury in patients ages 12-20 and get an idea of how TBI is being treated in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.  I was able to get some important information that I didn’t cover in a previous post about TBI in relation to action sports.

There I am in the blue and green shirt.  Photo from UTSW Dept of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics

There I am in the blue and green shirt. Photo from UTSW Dept of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics

There’s between 1.6 and 3.8 million reported concussions every year.  Many experts believe that there is a significant amount of under-reporting due to lack of knowledge of symptoms (you don’t have to lose consciousness and CAT scans can be negative) and a strong desire to not get sidelined, whether you’re playing football or skating.  Much of the focus has been on football because that’s where the funding comes from and it is America’s beloved pastime.  However, you can get a concussion from any sport so it’s important to have safe practices and be aware, regardless of what you’re doing.

Women actually have an increase incidence of concussion.  Some of it is due to more reporting, and some of it is due to head size and neck strength.  Thus even if the female athletes are doing fewer spins at a lower height, the risk they face is nothing to overlook.

So what can the action sports community do? (That was a question I asked.)  Learn about concussions and its various symptoms.  Have our friends and family study them up too.  Go to your annual physicals so that you and your doctor have an idea of what is “normal” for you; that will allow them to spot something out of the ordinary that could be a long-term side effect.

Football players have the Maddocks Questions to check up on an athlete who has been hit.  I propose an action sports version:
1. What’s the name of the park?
2. What trick were you doing?
3. What’s the last trick you landed?
4. Who are you skating/riding with?
5. [for contests] Who’s in the lead?

Although there have been interesting developments in TBI research related to biomarkers (proteins that the body produces in response to a concussion) and genetics, lack of resources and funding have produced a need for better statistics on injured groups and long-term studies.  We have no idea why some people develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (degeneration of the brain) and others don’t.  Moreover, a lot of the focus remains on treatment rather than prevention.  This is why it’s important for everybody to do their part in staying safe.  Even though action sports has prided itself on pushing forward against all odds, sometimes it’s better to sit out.

This past spring, Mat Hoffman told the story of how in 1999, he tore his ACL underwent surgery without anesthesia to receive a synthetic ligament.  Because the LARS™ ligament was banned in the U.S., he had to go to Canada.  The video, illustrated by Taj Mihelic, described why there was no anesthesia and what made it so revolutionary for him.  It piqued my interest in the LARS™ ligament so I did a little digging about its history and current studies.

The Ligament Advanced Reinforcement System, or LARS™, was developed in 1992 with hopes of solving problems with synthetic ligaments in the past decade (Corin).  Those often failed or caused inflammation in the synovial membrane that lines the joints (Machotka et al. 2010).  The LARS™ ligament was made from terephthalic polyethylene polyester fibers that are twisted for increased durability.

1595 From Corin

When Mat received his LARS™ ligament, the procedure was still relatively new.  It made headlines in Australia around 2010, as more professional athletes got LARS™ ligaments and enjoyed the speedy recovery.  That’s not to say there weren’t critics. Moreover, the FDA has yet to approve it.

Reviews of clinical studies thus far lean towards positive outcomes. Batty et al. and Chen at al. have compared the efficacy of many types of synthetic ligaments, and the LARS ligament produced the lowest rate of failure. The results reinforces the idea that this could be a solution to the severe side effects experienced with its predecessors. One issue appears to be the long-term durability. A study by Tiefenboeck et al. published this year examined patients who had their ACL reconstructed with the ligament with at least a ten-year follow-up reveals that re-rupturing does occur. They do not recommend the LARS™ ligament for primary ACL reconstruction. This is, however, just one study. As more results are published and more patients are observed in the long run, a better idea of the uses and limitations of the LARS™ ligament will be known. In Mat’s case, it appears to be a great success.

References

  • Batty LM, Norsworthy CJ, Lash NJ, Wasiak J, Richmond AK, Feller JA. 2015. Synthetic devices for reconstructive surgery of the cruciate ligaments: a systematic review. Arthroscopy. 31(5):957-68.
  • Chen J, Xu J, Wang A, Zheng M. 2009 Scaffolds for tendon and ligament repair: review of the efficacy of commercial products. Expert Review of Medical Devices. 6(1):61-73.
  • Corin – “LARS™ (Medical professionals)”
  • Machotka Z, Scarborough I, Duncan W, Kumar S, Perraton L. 2010. Anterior cruciate ligament repair with LARS (ligament advanced reinforcement system): a systematic review. Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology. 2:29.
  • Tiefenboeck TM, Thurmaier E, Tiefenboeck MM, Ostermann RC, Joestl J, Winnisch M, Schurz M, Hajdu S, Hofbauer M. 2015. Clinical and functional outcome after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction using the LARS™ system at a minimum follow-up of 10years. Knee. pii: S0968-0160(15)00131-3.