Surf lifesaving champion Dean Mercer has been remembered as a loving husband, devoted father and icon of his sport after he died on the Gold Coast on Monday morning.
Mercer’s car crashed through a fence at Mermaid Waters after the 47-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest behind the wheel.
Paramedics worked on the father-of-four at the scene. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition and doctors were unable to save him.
A statement on behalf of the family said Mercer’s wife Reen had to tell their four boys of the “shocking news” after he failed to return home from a regular morning training session.
“It is with great sadness and grief that we advise that our beloved Dean – loving husband of Reen and devoted father to their four boys Brayden,13, Rory,11, Lachlan 9, and Joshua 6 – passed away earlier today as a result of a cardiac arrest while driving on the Gold Coast.
“Dean had been returning home from his regular earlier morning training session with a Masters group at Kurrawa Surf Club – where he is the Director of Surf Sports.
“He was to call in and buy groceries for the family when he suffered a cardiac arrest at the wheel of his car and crashed into a fence on Markeri Street, Mermaid Waters. Ambulance officers were quickly on the [scene]. Dean was pronounced dead several hours later at Gold Coast University Hospital.
“Reen, surrounded by close friends has had to tell her boys of the shocking news. You can only imagine the grief surrounding the Mercer family at this time.”
The statement paid tribute to Mercer’s courage in the water, where he was often battling older brother Darren and all-time greats such as Trevor Hendy and Guy Leech.
“No surf was too big and no opponent too tall as he tackled the biggest and best in the business from his early days in Austinmer and Thirroul before making his move to Maroochydore and Mooloolaba and then to Northcliffe and finally to Kurrawa.
“He will go down in history as one of Australia’s greatest ironmen who represented both NSW and Queensland and wore the green and gold of Australia.”
Mercer was known as a bull terrier in his races. His gutsy victory over Trevor Hendy in the 1995 Australian Ironman final was one of the greatest moments of his career.
He won his first Australian crown in 1989, before adding a second six years later. He was at the heart of the “household name” era of the sport during its televised glory days in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Mercer, who grew up in Thirroul, near Wollongong, won five NSW state titles, a pair of Test of the Toughest titles and various national titles in other surf lifesaving events.
He spent the weekend in his home town, for his grandmother’s funeral, and met friend and former competitor Jonathan Crowe before he flew out.
“I am absolutely devastated,” Crowe said.
“I saw him at the airport last night as he headed back to the Gold Coast. We had two beers and a laugh.”
After retiring from racing, Mercer remained heavily involved in the sport, coaching the Nippers at the Gold Coast’s Kurrawa club and being inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2014.