Course of Recovery

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008


Orange-red dirt tinged every inch of 2-year-old Mason Murray as he rocked back and forth against the sides of his father's wheelchair. Dust outlined the folds in his elastic-waist jeans, filled the crevices of his Velcro shoes and coated his corn-silk hair, but neither the clay-rich Maryland dirt nor the blur of fluorescent-colored bikes at the Camden Yards Sports Complex could steal his adoring gaze away from his dad.

He playfully tapped on his dad's unresponsive arms and giggled each time the wheelchair scooted forward unexpectedly. And when Stephen Murray began to wheeze in the heavy summer heat -- inhaling easily enough, but searching unsuccessfully to put more force behind each sputtering exhale -- Mason knew exactly what to do.

"Daddy need cough?" he asked eagerly, turning toward his father.

"Yes," Stephen Murray said.

Mason stuck out his arms, spread his fingers and placed his open palms against his dad's chest. With a furrowed brow and all the strength his toddler body could muster, he pushed on his dad's torso in rhythm with Murray's breathing. Within 30 seconds, Murray coughed and a pleased Mason began swaying in his father's shadow again.

It has been more than a year since Stephen Murray, then a top professional bicycle motocross rider, was paralyzed here in a crash during the opening event of the AST Dew Tour's 2007 season. It is considered the worst accident ever in BMX, a crash so severe that many witnesses still decline to talk about it.

He returns to Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute regularly for therapy, and when his appointment last month coincided with the return of the Dew Tour, he went to the course. He wanted to see his friends ride in the first competition he's attended since the crash, and to visit the place where his life took a divergent course.

But the symbolism was lost on Mason and his older brother Seth, 5. They don't see their father as a strapping BMX rider who now is a quadriplegic, with a motorized wheelchair that he controls with his head. No. They see their dad as a human jungle gym, equipped with ears to pull on.

"It's good the accident happened at a young age for the kids," Stephen Murray said resolutely. "That way it's kind of normal for them to see me like this."

The Accident

The first run went exactly how Murray imagined it would.

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