Words and video by Robin Pearson
Photos by Scott Connor
There we were. Hundreds of us, assembled in London's House of Vans with Stephen Murray. The lead up to this point had been immense – for those on Ride UK BMX recently it was 10 weeks counting down to the book launch. For Lee Martin and John F McDonald it was the last year or so of transcribing, writing and editing. For Ian and Kelly Gunner it was at least the last few months of organising the promotion and release party itself. For Ride UK designer Ryan Van Kesteren it was the process of book cover design, tweaks and final versions. For Marco Dellisola and others at Stay Strong it was years and years of support and encouragement... The list goes on and on and I couldn't possibly give any of these people enough credit for what they've done to make it all possible.
For Stephen, the release of the book on 22nd June marked 10 years since his crash, then the launch party was two days later – though arguably it's his whole life that has led up to this point.
Written over the autumn and winter after moving back to the UK last year, dictated to lifelong friend Lee Martin, you can tell Stephen has poured his heart and soul into this. He said himself that the writing process was a great mental exercise, helping him connect old stories and test his memory.
It's a very personal book. I mean, obviously it's personal, it's an autobiography! There's just so much personality in STAYING STRONG, the detail that Stephen includes in his stories and the way he tells them is astounding. His reflections on the things that happened before the crash will drop your jaw, make you grin, laugh, scream... It's pretty interesting stuff to say the least.
Stephen's accounts following the crash will probably have a different effect. It gets heavy. Stephen has been through hell – but we already knew that. This book describes that hell. It goes into detail. It documents Stephen's feelings throughout all the hardships and setbacks and the way it's written genuinely speaks to you off the page – I had his voice in my head the whole time I was reading it.
There's an overwhelming humbleness and sense of perspective to be gained from reading this book. I was so drawn in by it that I finished it in a day, and it's now back on my table for another read.
If you're on this article, Staying Strong is a book you need to read. Anyone who's into BMX, action sports, sports in general, anyone who knows or thinks they know anything about Stephen, anyone with even a passing interest, buy a copy.
Staying Strong is an immensely human story – how a working-class boy from Tyneside in the north of England became a world champion BMX dirt rider in America – then went downhill through partying and drugs and alcohol, until he hit rock bottom. But, with determination and hard work, Stephen Murray had the tenacity to fight his way back to the top of his sport and, in 2007, he was once again riding in a world championship final. Then tragedy struck – he crashed and broke his neck, flat-lined three times, and ended up paralysed from the shoulders down. Though he lost the use of most of his body, Stephen never lost the fighting spirit that made him world champion and saved his life. Now he fights on a different front, staying strong in the face of everyday adversities, with a super-human mental resilience that inspires quadriplegics and action sports athletes the world over. His story is inspirational and his book is a triumph of the soul.