The Cayman community is mourning the loss of beloved family man, UK military veteran, track and field coach and avid runner Derek Larner, who died on Wednesday, 6 Jan., after a three-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Larner, 58, who is originally from the UK, moved to the Cayman Islands around 2004, after having secured a job offer with a security firm on Grand Cayman.
Having served in the UK military as a paratrooper, Larner’s love for the armed services and uniformed groups led him to volunteer with the Cayman Islands Cadet Corps, where he served in the capacity of Warrant Officer 1.
“Words are not enough to explain how much you meant to us as [kids] training in the Cayman Islands Cadet Corp!” wrote Abigail Green in a Facebook tribute to Larner. “This is extremely heart breaking because everyone of us that [trained] with you had a bond with you.”
“We know you as strict on the training fields, but your heart was as soft as a teddy when we got a one-on-one with you or when we were just gelling on camps or training.”
An avid runner, Larner went on to start training Cayman’s mid-distance runners and in 2016 he started 345 Athletic Club.
“Coach Derek took me under his wing when I was about 13, and pretty much guided me to my running career,” said Dominic Dyer, a member of the 345 Athletic Club. “He helped to shape my life by helping me to get into an Ivy league NCAA division 1 school, where I was able to continue with my running.”
“He was dedicated to every one of his athletes, and he had a binder with pages for each of us, where he kept track of all of our races, our [personal bests] and was able to show us how we improved over time.”
Larner’s passion for running also led him to start Race Caribbean – a business dedicated to assisting companies and non-profits to host fun runs and racing events.
“Through Race Caribbean, coach Derek was able to assist not just the running community, but the cycling and the triathlon groups,” said Dyer, adding that Larner had also introduced an electronic timing system, which helped to progress athletics in Cayman.
In December, a scaled-down version of the Cayman Islands Marathon was held. Unlike in previous years, due to his cancer treatment, Larner was not able to attend. To show their support for him, organisers gave participants ‘British Bulldog’ stickers to wear on their bibs.
Another major road running event in which Larner was closely involved was the annual Stride Against Cancer walk/run, organised by the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. This year the that run, which will be held on Sunday, 31 Jan., is being dedicated to Larner.
“Derek was an integral part of the CI Cancer Society Stride Against Cancer walk/run every year and we can’t imagine Stride without him,” the Cancer Society’s operations manager Jennifer Weber said. “Therefore, in an effort to honour all Derek did to help others in Cayman, CICS will dedicate the Stride Against Cancer 2021 to Derek Larner, with the blessing of his wife, Laura.”
Larner was open about his cancer diagnosis, which in his updates about his condition on social media, he likened to going into battle.
“Ok, it’s the big ‘C’. Great, now I know who I’m battling against,” he said on a post uploaded on 3 Oct. “Prior to this moment I didn’t know who I was going to war with, but now I know; and it is a battle I fully intend to win.”
Larner would go on to post several updates about his struggles against the deadly disease. During one update, while struggling with a barrage of hiccups, Larner thanked everyone for their well wishes, and words of encouragement.
“I think the first round of this fight is done, I’m feeling good,” he said. “So, let’s arrange the next battle and crack on.”
After a second round of treatment, Larner was released from the hospital, however things took a turn for the worse, and he eventually succumbed.
Prior to his death, he thanked his friends, family, former service members, athletes and everyone who offered help; and in a gesture of selflessness he requested that people make donations to those who weren’t as lucky as him.
He said, “If you want to do something, I would recommend you make a donation to a local cancer society, because I’m fortunate where I am able to get treatment and I have got good medical insurance.
“But there are lots and lots of people that don’t have that, and they are going to go through this painful experience, but not have the wherewithal to do something about it; and the cancer societies are there for those people.
“So, if you want to do anything for me, just make a donation to those guys and they will be able to help out people who are in a far worse situation that me.”