Darren Mercer: Coach | Noosa today

He’s been the coach for so long you tend to forget that the affable Darren Mercer was once an Aussie sports superstar, loading surf onto your TV screen, bodysurfing in front of a box of Nutri-Grain.

“I used to walk down the cereal aisle at the supermarket, turning the boxes upside down so everyone could see my picture,” Darren joked to the cameras when he and fellow ironman champion Trevor Hendy passed the cereal box baton to their superstar children, Jordan and TJ, in 2020.

Darren’s little gag is especially funny if you know the guy, because it really isn’t him.

In 2020, the Nutri-Grain brand celebrated a hugely successful 40-year association with surfing, surf lifesaving and, more specifically, ironman. When the grain company began sponsoring the extreme end of surf club sports in 1980, Ironman began to develop a profile, but when Australian filmmakers decided to fictionalise rivalries and parental pressures and create a real event as its centerpiece, Ironman exploded onto the audience. radar.

I was on the beach covering a national magazine when a young Guy Leech won the first Coolangatta Gold in 1984 and the excitement was electric. It was a surf carnival like we had never seen before, full of action and passion. Darren Mercer and his brother Dean, two years younger, made their Gold debut a few years later, and in the early 90s Gold and the national Ironman title became battlegrounds between the Mercer brothers of Wollongong and Trevor from the Gold Coast. Hendy.

“Yeah, we grew up in Trevor’s time,” says Darren, who has just returned from a family Christmas in Thirroul, which isn’t quite Wollongong but a fully-fledged surf town just to the north .

He remembers receiving quite a bit of criticism from his hometown friends when Ironman’s push into commercial territory saw him everywhere, especially when Nutri-Grain produced a television commercial featuring featured a very young Darren and the immortal voiceover, “Watch the Boy Become the Man”. .

“Look,” Darren said, “We were just in the right place at the right time, we fell into it. I think Trevor (Hendy) liked it more than us, but you get used to it, and being a media face wasn’t as pervasive as it is now. And I can tell you that we didn’t have the media sense of kids today.

When Darren talks about his illustrious ironman career, it’s invariably us rather than me, and the us is younger brother Dean, whom he trained with and competed against often, the two sides of the triangle that they were training with Hendy. The brothers were inseparable rivals and friends, and the great tragedy in Darren’s life was losing him to a heart attack at just 47 in 2017. When Darren calmed down over the years, Dean stayed pedaling. on the metal, taking on competitors in the surf who are half his age, the Kelly Slater of the ironman. In the end it was too much.

But back then it was Darren who led the way, winning Coolangatta Gold in 1991 and then winning back-to-back national ironman titles in 1996 and 1997, still an SLSA first.

As the new century dawned, Darren and his wife Tiana had two young daughters, Jordan and Madison, and a life after Ironman to consider. They chose the Sunshine Coast, buying on Minyama Waters while Darren worked as a coach for the Mooloolaba Surf Club.

Says Darren: “We were actually looking to come to Noosa quite early in the play because (Noosa Tri founder) Garth Prowd had taken me under his wing, but at this point there was no center Ironman training in Noosa so we went first. to the south end. Wish we had come straight here! A lot of ironman guys, like Barry Newman and Leechy, came north to Noosa to train with Alan Coates, but Dean and I were also happy with our home environment. But as I was coming to the end of my career with a young family, we did. There wasn’t really a problem at Mooloolaba, but when the coaching job at Noosa became available (in 2010) we jumped on it because that was where we really wanted to live. And we love it!”

Darren says first-born Jordan started gymnastics with his mother and proved such a natural talent that he was offered an opportunity with the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. Darren says: “We actually thought about going back down south, but we didn’t want to, and she had also fallen in love with Nippers, so we decided to stay. And guess what? His talents in the ocean began to blossom.

It’s kind of an understatement. Jordan Mercer has become a record-breaking ironwoman and endurance ocean paddler, whose frantic career is only now balanced by the demands of education and marriage.

Darren says, “The decision to start relaxing is up to him. We never forced or pushed her to do anything in the sport, it had to be her passion, and it is. And she started winning so many titles. A few injuries set her back a lot, and she was determined to finish college, so that kind of bothered her a bit too, but she’s almost done now and by mid-year she’ll be a teacher, which we’re very excited about. proud. .”

I ask the Noosa Surf Club head coach to describe his routine.

“A lot of people think you just jump in, do a bit of coaching and go home, but there are always things to do behind the scenes. My role is both administrative and coaching, developing the calendar of events and travel. There are also a lot of personal connections with parents as well as with the athletes I work with, from the Nippers to the Masters. The role has broadened my skills a lot and I love it. And if I can pass on my skills and experience to the next generation, I like that too.

One last thing. I tell Darren that I found a classic photo of him celebrating his 21st birthday with his surf club buddies, and it reveals that his birthday falls on the day this article was published.

“Wait what?”

He looks puzzled.

“Oh, I know. The picture is from January, right? We always used to race and train until December, so I couldn’t celebrate my December 12th birthday. would have a fake in mid-January.

So this is it. The coach is now 54 years and one month old. It doesn’t look like it.

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