x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Swimming pool memorial for triathlete

School's instructor who died in suspected hit-and-run accident remembered in candlelit service that ends with mourners taking a dip.

ABU DHABI // More than 200 relatives, friends, colleagues and pupils attended a candlelit memorial last night for Mark Pringle, the Australian triathlete who died on Sunday, five weeks after suffering head injuries in a suspected hit-and-run accident.

The service was held beside the pool at Al Raha International School where Pringle worked as a swimming instructor. Tea lights were lit and placed on swimming floats in the pool and 50 balloons were released to mark the birthday that Pringle would have celebrated next week. Mourners wore the casual surf shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops and baseball caps that were Pringle's trademark attire. At the end of the service, by which time the memorial candles had blown out, some of the mourners jumped in unison into the pool.

Pringle's wife of two and a half years, Jennifer, 45, paid tribute to the athlete she called "Superman". "Mark had more impact on my life than people I have known for 20 years. I am gutted. There is no end for this for me," she said. Pringle is believed to have been struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle on Khaleej al Arabi Street on July 24. Doctors initially told Mrs Pringle her husband had only 24 hours to live. However, he survived in a medically induced coma for more than five weeks, which his wife put down to his healthy lifestyle, high level of fitness and inner strength.

"Mark was adored," said Mrs Pringle, who was at his bedside when he died. "Everybody loved him. He was friendly and happy and very generous with his time with everybody - that's why I fell in love with him. We waited a long time to find each other." Pringle first competed in the triathlon, an event that combines swimming, cycling and running, in 1981 and competed professionally until 1993. He won 33 triathlons during his career.

After moving to Abu Dhabi about a year ago and starting a local triathlon team, TriME, Pringle took a job at the school. The school, which unveiled a memorial plaque, is to rename its swimming pool after him. Philippe-Olivier Trottier, 15, one of Pringle's pupils, said: "I was shocked. I went to see him at the hospital. It was really tough because we don't really know what happened to him." Another pupil, Carina Koerner, 13, said: "He always told me to do my best and not to worry about what other people said - just to concentrate on my skills and not to worry about anybody else."

Garrett Lowe, 37, a member of the TriME triathlon team, wore a racing shirt designed by Pringle that featured a camel. Wayne MacInnis, the principal of the school, described Pringle as a lively man who was excellent with children. "He was a real fit guy. Fifty years old and I think he won the triathlon here last year. It's just hard to imagine someone that fit and that vibrant gone all of a sudden. It seems so strange."

The TriME team had raised funds towards Pringle's medical expenses and had been a pillar of support to his family, Mr MacInnis said. Some went to the hospital just to hold his wife's hand. "He was in a coma for 39 days," said Mr MacInnis. "That's a difficult thing to go through. You're up one day, down the next, high hopes one day and the next day they're dashed. It was an emotional roller-coaster."

Pringle was riding with two other cyclists when he was injured, at about 5.30am during his routine Friday bike ride. Police, who said the accident was the result of "non-judgment of road users," have not made any arrests in connection with Pringle's death. They are still appealing for witnesses. Memorial services for Pringle will also be held in six Australian cities in the coming weeks. jgerson@thenational.ae