BMX rider and former Subaru rally driver Dave Mirra, who committed suicide earlier this year, was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the same disease found in many pro football players. Mirra is the first extreme sport athlete to be diagnosed with CTE, reports CNN.
Scientists believe CTE can be caused by repeated head trauma, which isn't uncommon in the sport of BMX. Mirra competed professionally in BMX racing from 1992-2011. In that time he won a total of 24 medals at the X Games, 14 of which were golds. Mirra also took up boxing after he retired and was hit by a car at age 19, which left him with a fractured skull and a blood clot in his brain.
CTE has gotten attention in the news recently thanks to former pro football players like Junior Seau and Adrian Robinson, both of whom committed suicide and were later found to suffer from CTE. The disease was also brought into the spotlight with help from the 2015 film "Concussion." Many scientists theorize that CTE is caused by repeated hits to the head, and that with each hit the brain rattles around in the skull. This leads to a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau, which affects portions of the brain and results in Alzheimer's-like symptoms, including memory loss, mood swings, and rage. Other symptoms of CTE include depression, aggression, and disorientation. As of right now, scientists can only conclusively diagnose CTE after death.
Mirra's CTE diagnosis was confirmed by University of Toronto neuropathologist Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, who said the multiple tau deposits found in the athlete's brain were similar to those seen in pro football and hockey players diagnosed with the disease.
"We would like to thank our family, friends, and the overwhelming number of Dave's fans who have supported us during this difficult time," said Mirra's wife, Lauren, in a statement. "We ask for your continued support in honoring Dave's legacy and for your patience as we plan to create a platform for CTE awareness and research."