Thirroul Beach was always a second home to Dean and Darren Mercer.
The brothers grew up spending countless hours soaking up the sun, training and competing at the iconic venue, which was the perfect launching pad for them becoming greats of surf lifesaving.
Dean would go on to become a two-time national Ironman champion and five-time state Ironman champion, while Darren's career highlights included winning Thirroul's first-ever gold medal in the Under-18s Ironman series and claimed two Australian Ironman titles.
The pair have both been inducted into Surf Life Saving Australia's Hall of Fame.
"Dean and I both started with the Thirroul Sand Crabs. Dad was heavily involved as president of the nippers, so Dean and I came through and our sister Kylie came through as well - so Thirroul was always a big part of our lives until we moved north," Darren told the Mercury.
"We used to have so much fun, there was always great waves at Thirroul. In those days, there was just Dean and myself there for training, maybe one or two other guys who would join us as well. It was great times back in those days, though probably not as crowded as it would be these days.
"Dean's personality was pretty close to how he used to race - he was a bit of a terror. You know if you were racing against Dean, he never gave an inch. He was a tough and hard racer, and he was a great training partner - he'd push me all the time.
"He was the one that was always dragging me to training and making sure that we were doing what we needed to get to that high level, which we were lucky enough to achieve throughout our careers."
The younger Mercer brother will be centre of mind for Thirroul SLSC members on Sunday when the club holds the third annual Dean Mercer Dash.
The 5km board race is held in honour of the late Ironman champion, who was tragically killed when his car crashed through a fence on the Gold Coast after he suffered a cardiac arrest behind the wheel in 2017. He was 47.
It's an event that is circled each year on the Illawarra surf lifesaving calendar, and one that is particularly special to his family.
The first Dash was held in 2021, with Claire Spicknall and Jack Wilson claiming the inaugural women's and men's competitions. Spicknall returned to defend her title last year, while Jayden Beaumont was the 2022 men's winner.
"It's a great initiative that Thirroul has put forward because Dean was obviously a big part of the surf club - we both were - and our family was as well," Darren said.
"It's a great honour for the family to have his name remembered there continually. I can't get down there this weekend unfortunately, there's a bit going on, but I've promised Dad that I'll be there for the next one.
"Mum and Dad will be there on Sunday, and hopefully my sister too. They always like to come down and be part of it. I know that the first year they held it, they took Mum out on the IRB (inflatable rubber boat) - which is a very rare occasion.
"It's a proud moment for them as well. It (Dean's death) was devastating for the whole family, but you can only imagine how devastating it was for Mum and Dad."
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