THE family of Ironman champion Dean Mercer have made an emotional tribute to the star at a moving funeral service on the Gold Coast on Friday.
Mercer, a two-time national champion and one of the biggest stars during surf life saving's brightest era, died from a heart attack while driving to the shops on the Gold Coast last week.
An honour roll of the sport's biggest names were among the 1000-plus mourners who gathered at the Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre to farewell a champion athlete and a champion bloke known almost universally as 'Deano'.
His wife Reen, herself a former glamour girl of surf life saving, bravely took to the stage to tell of a man who never gave up - especially in his pursuit of her.
"I'm so glad he kept chasing and I'm so glad I slowed down enough for him to catch me," she said.
"We will miss him so much."
Brayden, the oldest of the couple's four sons, told of a wonderful dad.
His brother Darren, the other half of surf life saving's first family, said it had been a privilege to live, play and train with Deano.
"There was never a dull moment growing up with Dean," he said.
"He was the best training partner ever, bar none."
A video montage of Mercer's life played to the strains of the David Bowie classic 'Heroes'.
Family friend Ian Hanson said the song perfectly summed up the life of the champion who was like "a Mack truck wrapped up in the body of a mini".
"I know Dean will continue to watch over his family the only way he knew how - absolutely flat out," he said.
Mr Hanson also read out a tribute from Mercer's father John.
"You were the Phar Lap of Ironman racing," he wrote.
"It is with a heavy heart that we can say: 'goodbye champion'."After the service, his coffin was carried out of the venue past a guard of honour featuring the colours, flags and surf craft of dozens of surf clubs.
He was 47.
Mercer was a superstar of ironman racing in the ''80s and ''90s, winning national open titles in 1989 and 1995.
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