I first met Derek Sharman a few years back at the Superpro Samui gym in Thailand. It was the late afternoon Muay Thai class – two-hours in blistering heat. Hands were being wrapped, Tiger Balm was being applied to tightened limbs, and the trainers were busy rallying students.
This towering Adonis of a man approached me, shook my hand and introduced himself. He looked like he belonged there way more than I did. He asked me where I was from, how long I’d been training Muay Thai, and where on the island of Koh Samui I was staying. We became instant friends.
In the following years we’d meet up in our “happy place” and “talk” endlessly on Messenger and What’s App across the miles between London and Calgary about “stuff”.
A few days ago, this gentle giant decided he and our world were no longer compatible. Of course, I didn’t know him as well as his friends in Canada and the colleagues who revered and respected him in the Calgary Fire Department but there are things I learnt instantly about Derek Sharman – he was one of the kindest, most caring and empathetic people I’ve ever met (and I have a few miles under my belt on the clock of life).
And, despite how he appeared – the firefighter calendar good looks and ripped muscles – this guy didn’t have an arrogant or selfish sinew in his well-toned, six-foot-plus physique. The women all loved him, and the guys all wanted to have a beer with him (although that was always contained to “letting off some steam” only on Saturday nights when training!) – and everyone I knew who met Derek Sharman was only too aware they’d been blessed.
When he spoke to you, he had that quality of making you feel that not only were you by far the most important person in that conversation, but you were also one of the most significant people in the world in that particular snapshot of time. That is rare.
It was typical of Derek that he had been thinking about spending more time in Thailand, either teaching sports to young people or undertaking some volunteering.
My friend found peace and tranquillity whenever he was in that beautiful, intoxicating country and had established an incredibly close bond with Superpro Samui’s head trainer Charoon Juntra (another huge hearted human being). Derek spoke to me often of how he viewed Charoon as his big brother, trainer, mentor and guide.
Derek and I had spoken a lot in the past year about major life events and his struggles; about trying to be better men (I fail repeatedly; I’m not sure my friend ever could); about wanting to grow as individuals; chase new experiences and appreciate the small things in life that we all know deep down are by far the most precious. But it was typical of Derek that he always had more questions of (and concerns about) me than he was in recounting his own battles.
On his Facebook wall yesterday, a friend said of Derek: “Never judge a book by its cover. There wasn’t a day when he wasn’t smiling or making others around him smile. He came across as the happiest guy every day.”
I need to stop writing this now because the tears are coming. I want to remember this huge-hearted diamond of a man rolling into class with a broad smile and a question – and a concern – for everyone.
I am so grateful that, through our shared love of Thailand and Muay Thai, our paths crossed. I loved your company buddy and I respected and admired you enormously as a man and as a human being.
Sleep well brother xxx