Former ironman Dean Mercer will be on the minds of competitors as they line up for Saturday’s Coolangatta Gold.
The athletes will stand for a minute’s silence prior to the race, which will start on the sand this year in a tribute to the 2009 runner-up.
“It will have a special moment, this is my first time being involved in the event, but I know the history of Dean supporting that event.” Wollongong City surf lifesaver Trent Lawrence said.
“There will be a time for reflection during the event.”
Lawrence became a friend of the Thirroul junior after the pair competed with and against each other throughout the 1980s.
“You’d always admire Dean’s qualities as a competitor and as a person when we were younger.
“As we grew older, the Illawarra had a strong surf club connection and all the clubs supported each other.”
The 46-year-old is one of a number of Illawarra residents who will contest the famed endurance event.
Representing Wollongong City, Lawrence will team with Warwick Ward and Bryce Coleman in the open males team category.
The event took on greater meaning for the trio when Mercer died in August after suffering a heart attack while driving home from training on the Gold Coast.
“With Dean Mercer’s passing, it’s given a new meaning to the competition this weekend,” Lawrence said.
“I think that’ll be the same for all competitors from the Illawarra that are involved in this weekend’s event.
“I’ll definitely reflect on Dean’s passing when I’m competing.”
Mercer was one of Australia’s most respected ironmen and Lawrence credited Dean and his brother Darren for helping to lift the profile of the sport in the Illawarra region.
“He and his brother, they both put Illawarra on the map in terms of surf lifesaving in those ironman days and their standard of competition helped rub off on others.
“They led by example in terms of what can be achieved and gave others in the Illawarra the confidence to be able to achieve personally and at a club level.”
Lawrence lauded Dean’s laid back nature and ability to enjoy himself away from the surf while still ensuring he was focused when competition rolled around.
“He was well respected because of his ability as a competitor and also his ability to have a good laugh and to have that lighter sense and not take things too seriously. But as soon as the gun went for competition he was a stand out competitor.”
After moving up to the Gold Coast, Mercer maintained his involvement in the surf lifesaving community.
He was the Kurrawa Surf Club surf sports director at the time of his death.
“He was one of the key faces of surf lifesaving, he was well respected wherever he went and that’s why he had such an influence when he moved out of Thirroul to Queensland,” Lawrence said.
“It didn’t matter where he went, he was always going to have that positive influence.”
“He touched a lot of people from a large area.”