The West

Lost son inspires whole club

With courage few would understand and with a tribute to her late son on her jacket and cap, Queenslander Christine Dennis was the unsung hero at Australia's Surf Life Saving Championships at Scarborough this week.

Jerry Dennis, a budding lifesaver, died on August 1 last year after collapsing mysteriously off his paddleboard as he trained with fellow Northcliffe SLSC members at Mermaid Waters in Queensland.

His mother was nearby.

Eight months later, his family are still waiting for the Coroner to tell them what ended his life.

The incident was the day after the 17-year-old recovered from a significant head cold and after he complained in the carpark of a pain in his chest.

It left his mother feeling guilty about wondering what she could have done to save him but also with a commitment to living the rest of her life in his honour.

Mrs Dennis did that this week in the Masters section of the Aussies, winning a gold and four silver medals and knowing Jerry was with her for every step and splash.

"To come here was our plan and I thought, 'Don't worry, Jer, I'm going to stick to our guns and we're going to do this, mate'," Mrs Dennis said yesterday.

"As a parent, you do so much for them and it becomes so automatic to want to help them and you can't turn that off. So I trained harder and became more a part of the club and I want to honour him. That's all I can do for him. If I didn't do that, what have I got left?"

Club livery for Northcliffe, the most powerful club in Australian surf sports, last week featured the tag "JD 157" in honour of the 157th gold medal Jerry helped it win in an under-15 surf team at The Aussies. Mrs Dennis said the gesture was typical of the support the club had given her since his death. She said she struggled to make sense of her strong and capable son's demise.

Though unsure what she could have done to prevent it, she urged parents to listen carefully when their children complained of any ailment.

Jerry is suspected to have died from the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

"The doctors told me that if it didn't happen that day, it would have happened another day and it was only a matter of time," she said.

"Jerry sniffled a bit and that plays on me now because the last time it happened, he died.

"He didn't whinge too much about anything, but you have to listen to even the littlest things they say.

"I don't want to put people in a panic and say you have to drag your kids to hospital every time they sneeze, but just listen to your kids."

The West Australian

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