MH17 crash: Loss of mentor spurs athletes Casey Eastham and Ryan Gregson on

Casey Eastham

Casey Eastham

With heavy hearts, athletes Ryan Gregson and Casey Eastham are preparing to compete in the Commonwealth Games later this week - both are mourning Michael Clancy, their favourite teacher and childhood mentor.

The cousins were in Mr Clancy's class at Albion Park Primary School at a time when their sporting talents were emerging.

Eastham was on a flight to Britain as the news unfolded of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft being shot down over Ukraine on Friday, killing 298 people on board.

Mr Clancy and his wife Carol, also a teacher, were travelling first class on the flight, having saved years for the ticket to Europe to celebrate Mr Clancy's retirement after 35 years as a primary school teacher.

Gregson, 24, who will compete in the 1500 metres preliminary heat on Friday, was already based at the Commonwealth Games Australian camp when his aunt Janette Rayner, Eastham's mother, posted the tragic news on Facebook.

Ryan Gregson

Ryan Gregson

"Mr Clancy was by far my favourite teacher I had growing up," Gregson told the Mercury.

"He was the teacher to leave the biggest impact on my childhood and I'm devastated by his loss. I can still remember the way he used to walk his signature stroll around the playground, holding his arms behind his back.

"When I went to Perth for three years in 2000, Mr Clancy gave me his email so we could keep in touch - the only teacher to do so."

Although in different years, Gregson and Eastham were in the same composite class at school in 1999. Eastham also had Mr Clancy as a teacher in year 4 in 1998.

Eastham, 25, a senior Hockeyroo, has been gutted by the death of Mr Clancy, whom she said was a kind-hearted teacher and one of the first to support her passion for hockey.

"We developed a really good relationship. I remember being so impressed by him that I wanted to get something for him when I left primary school as a farewell and a thank-you for all he had done for me," she said.

"I knew he liked golf so I gave him a wooden golf ornament which we had engraved ... To think that he and his wife were taken in this manner so soon after a long-serving contribution to the educational community in the Illawarra is heart-breaking."

Eastham, who will play her first Games match on Thursday evening, is planning to marry former Dragons NSW Cup player Scott Sablowski, also a former Albion Park Primary School student, in Bali on September 4.

Mr C, as some students called him, had a knack of never forgetting a student's face or name. He recognised Gregson's grandmother in the street six months before his death and 14 years after her last grandchild had left the school.

Gregson's mother, Sue Gregson, remembers Mr Clancy as a caring man.

"He only ever had the children's best interests at heart - every child was an equal," she said.

"He had high morals and always encouraged the kids to do their best. When Ryan began to show talent, he nurtured and encouraged him but not in a way that made him more important than the other kids. To him everyone mattered."

The Gregsons had booked Malaysia Airlines tickets to fly to Glasgow on Thursday to watch their son compete. However, they have since cancelled that flight and re-booked using another airline.

"I think of the kids and how much flying they do now," Ms Gregson said. "Ryan flies throughout Europe almost every week to compete. It's scary."

Ms Rayner said Mr Clancy was a humble man who probably didn't realise the enormous impact he had on the lives of so many of his students.

"He was always so positive about Casey playing hockey when, as a young girl, she began to show promise," she said.

Both Eastham and Gregson wanted to express their sympathies to the families of Mr Clancy and Mrs Clancy.

"I just want to let them know he was a fantastic teacher who made my time at Albion Park Primary memorable and enjoyable," Eastham said.

"Know that he left his mark not only on my life but in the lives of so many of the students in the Illawarra. And for that I will be forever grateful."

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