Injured BMX Rider, Family Brace for Rough Road Ahead
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
BALTIMORE -- Before visitors walk into Stephen Murray's room at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center to see the injured bicycle motocross (BMX) rider, his family tries to give them an idea of what they'll find.
But there isn't any truly effective preparation for them to see the typically energetic and charismatic 27-year-old who is now unable to speak or move below his shoulders. So they tell everyone about the alcove adjacent to Murray's room, or as his mother Cynthia Edgworth calls it, Heartbreak Hotel.
It's a vacancy no one wants to fill, but all of them have. A place where even the toughest, most-grizzled action sports athletes seek refuge so they don't break down in front of their friend.
"Somebody will come see Stephen for the first time and you get in there and you realize what's really going on," said Paul Roberts, Murray's best friend and a well-known BMX announcer. "It's very hard to do and it's a natural reaction. You can't prepare yourself."
On June 22 in the BMX dirt finals at the Dew Action Sports Tour's Panasonic Open, Murray attempted to throw a double back flip on the final set of jumps at the Camden Yards Sports Complex.
It was the trick that had won him an X Games gold medal in 2001, a trick he spent countless hours in the foam pit practicing for years, a trick that featured so much rotational force that very few riders land it consistently or try to do it in competition.
But Murray could pull it off, and he wouldn't attempt it if the conditions weren't right. If he wasn't set on a jump, he wouldn't try the double flip even if it was in the plan. Unfortunately that Friday, things didn't go as anyone expected.
At the full in-air height of the trick, Murray flew off the bike and landed on his head, crushing the C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. Murray flat-lined on the way to the hospital, but was revived by the team of EMTs in the ambulance.
In the days following the crash, Murray underwent two seven-hour surgeries to fuse together the bones in the upper part of his spine and place a small titanium cage around the bones, from C2 to C6, to prohibit any future movement of the spinal cord.
According to the American Spinal Injury Association's (ASIA) impairment scale, Murray is classified as ASIA-B Incomplete, meaning he has sensory but no motor function below the region of the injury. It is unclear if he will remain paralyzed permanently.
In a sport where broken bones are commonplace, severe injury in competition is rare. Several riders called this one of the most gruesome they had seen in a BMX competition.
Roberts, who witnessed the crash, contacted Murray's parents in England and his wife, Melissa, in Corona, Calif., where he now lives along with his two young sons, Seth, 4, and Mason, 1.