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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Business is BMX star's latest daredevil move
Bicycling legend Dave Mirra mingles with local amateurs on a promotional stop.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published April 18, 2006
[Times photos: Carrie Pratt]
John McGuire, 13, right, and his younger brother Tommy lean against the doors at the 688 Skatepark. Dozens of kids lined up at the facility hoping to get a glimpse of Dave Mirra.
Dave Mirra won 14 gold medals at the X Games. Now, he is headlining the Local Exposure Tour, which hit Largo on it's six-city jaunt.
LARGO - Dave Mirra has created moves so creative, so aggressive, so - there's no other word for it - radical he has become the maturing, mainstream face of BMX.
With 14 gold medals, Mirra is the most decorated athlete in X Games history and has carved out an action-sports empire that rivals skateboarder Tony Hawk.
He has appeared in national commercials, hosted MTV's Real World vs. Road Rules: Inferno and competed against other professional athletes in bowling on ESPN. He also has his own shoe, video game, action figure, cereal and bubble gum.
But after years of soaring above and beyond his competitors, Mirra is attempting his boldest move.
He left Haro Bikes to launch his own line of bicycles.
That's what brought him to 688 Skatepark in Largo and Skatepark of Tampa last week.
Mirra, 32, was one of the headliners on the Local Exposure Tour, a six-city stop in which professionals jam with amateurs at each park. There also is a contest where local riders compete for top prizes and a chance to be sponsored next year by Mirra's new company, Mirraco.
"It's crazy to look back and see how much my career has taken off," Mirra said. "I've had so much support along the way. This is just my way of giving back."
The Local Exposure Tour is the brainchild of Allan Cooke, one of the top pros.
"I thought it would be cool to come up with something where the locals could show us what they've got," Cooke said. "It's an honor that Dave (Mirra) wanted to be a part of this."
Mirra brought immediate name recognition. It showed as dozens of kids lined up at 688 Skatepark, banging on the front entrance in hopes of getting inside to watch their favorite rider.
"(Mirra's) awesome," Tommy McGuire, 9, said. "He's one of my idols."
Mirra spent the rest of the day riding at breathtaking speeds and taking off in bravura-testing midair stunts. His exhibition, though, came to a halt when he hurt his groin after landing awkwardly on his handlebars.
"That's just part of the business," he said.
At 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Mirra is a diminutive star who has subjected his body to a grueling sport. He has broken his collarbone, torn knee ligaments and ripped his spleen in half.
Still, those injuries do not compare to the one that nearly cost him his life.
In 1993, he was hit by a car driven by an underage drunk driver. The accident left him with a fractured skull, brain clots and a separated shoulder. Mirra spent months in a hospital with seemingly no future in BMX.
He took a job at a car dealership but quit after the third day.
"I couldn't give up," Mirra said.
Eager to start riding again, Mirra moved to Greenville, N.C., where his brother, Tim, was living and took an apartment next to a BMX park. The Mirras rode together and Dave regained his passion.
That year, the X Games were born. It is an event where Mirra has made a name for himself by pedaling to a lot of medals.
Though he is ancient by his sport's standards, Mirra still competes, and thrives, in a world that worships the young.
His media exposure also has helped legitimize BMX for parents and allowed children to develop skills more quickly.
"You can tell Dave loves to ride," said Kenan Harkin, an announcer for Local Exposure and the Dew Action Sports Tour. "He always has fun with whatever he does. He knows what it's like to come up through the ranks, and being on the (Local Exposure) tour gives him a chance to get back to the grass roots level."
Mirra saw how much the up-and-comers have learned as riders from 688 Skatepark displayed their best moves.
"These kids were killing it out there," he said.
Josh Shaw won the local contest. The 19-year-old from St. Petersburg won the Pierfest competition the week before.
"My big thing was to come out here, have fun and ride with guys I grew up watching," Shaw said. "It was great to see Dave Mirra. At first, I was really scared to talk to him. But he was cool."
Mirra signed autographs before packing up his gear and heading to the next stop. He'll complete this tour and ride in the X Games contest this summer.
"I'm not even thinking about retiring yet," he said.