Ryan Nyquist had seen Stephen Murray execute the move many times. It was a move, Nyquist said, most bicycle motocross riders - even professionals - won't dare try.
But this move, a double back flip at the highest point of ascension, had won many BMX events for Murray over the years. When performed correctly, it would send a rush through a crowd. And because of the move's inherent danger, it would force judges to give Murray a top score.
Nyquist, who won the BMX dirt finals at the Dew Tour's first stop at the Camden Yards Sports Complex three weeks ago, also had seen Murray crash before.
But never like this.
"We all were trying to figure out what just happened. We all knew it was pretty serious," Nyquist said. "It's tough to get back in the mode of competition or the mode of anything, actually, after something like that happens."
Murray, 27, a Corona, Calif., resident and native of Great Britain, was in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center until yesterday after the horrific fall in the BMX dirt finals at the Panasonic Open June 22. He broke three vertebrae in his neck and was on a ventilator to breathe for most of his stay, according to a blog kept by close friends and family members on bmxonline.com.
A hospital spokeswoman said Murray was discharged yesterday morning in critical but stable condition but offered no further comment. According to the blog, Murray was to be moved to a rehabilitation facility in Denver.
In addition to suffering career-ending injuries, Murray could be facing a financial crisis that many action sports athletes fear. He is out of work, and his level of insurance coverage is unclear. A July 11 blog post indicated the Murrays, who declined to be interviewed for this article, were facing problems with Stephen's health insurance. The family has asked the public for financial help on its blog.
Most action sports organizations, including the Dew Tour, don't provide medical benefits as do major professional team sports leagues. Nicole Mancuso, a Dew Tour spokeswoman, said the organization requires athletes to show proof of insurance before they can participate in tour-sanctioned events.
"We have them sign waivers before competing," Mancuso said. "So if an athlete doesn't sign off on the fact that they have insurance, then we don't allow them to compete."
Had Murray been competing in the X Games, which he has done, he might be in a different situation. X Games athletes also sign waivers when they arrive at X Games sites. But managing director Rick Alessandri said ESPN provides supplemental insurance for the events it stages.
"We work closely with athletes, sport organizers and officials to ensure the safest possible conditions for X Games competitors," Alessandri said in a statement. "Yet, when the world's best athletes compete at the highest level in any sport, risks remain."
Murray, who has a wife and two children, is well known in the sport for his daring yet silky style. As his sport evolved, he would try tricks few others would. His best year as a professional came in 2001, when he won a gold medal at the X Games in Philadelphia. He was a seven-time expert British champion and six-time national champion before the age of 16.
Though Nyquist said he and Murray are not close friends, they are close in age (Nyquist is 28). Nyquist said he watched Murray work his way up the ranks.
Nyquist said Murray didn't invent the double back flip but adopted it as his go-to trick, confidently performing it at almost every competition. "I don't do that trick. I don't even mess with it because I know it's like no other trick," said Nyquist, who in 2004 won an ESPY award as male action sports athlete of the year. "Stephen's one of the only guys who could get it to where he's comfortable with it. That says something about his riding."
The mood reflected by the Murray family's posts has swung up and down. An encouraging-sounding post on June 28 said the director of the neurotrauma team told the family that Murray was "not going to end up like Christopher Reeve."
A more recent post said Murray had asked to view the footage of his crash, which the post said "is a sign of how mentally strong he is."
How to help
Donations can be sent to: Stephen Murray Family Fund, 92 Corporate Park Suite C #171, Irvine, CA 92606. Online donations can be made by sending an e-mail to stephenmurrayfund@hotmail. com. Write the amount you would like to contribute and you will receive a return e-mail with the invoice to a PayPal secure account, where you can pay by credit card or with a bank account number.