Remembering Dennis Stcroix – the Wapping Marathon Man

Dennis Stcroix – a modest yet remarkable man

Dennis-StcroixI did not have the privilege to meet Dennis Stcroix although I often saw him striding through the Greenbank Estate.

It was only after his death that I learned a little about him and was genuinely shocked by the loss of such a fit and vibrant man.

Dennis was known as the ‘Marathon Man’ for the very good reason that he ran marathon’s like most of us would turn on the TV!

This year in honour of his memory Sarah Smith and Joanna Monehen, pictured below, are running the London Marathon to raise funds in memory of Dennis.

IMG_0809So please support Sarah and Joanna and remember Dennis by making a donation on the ‘Remembering Dennis Stcroix’ Justgiving page.

To be blunt – we want your cash!

Dennis – a biography. (Courtesy of the Smith family)

Dennis was born in Willsden, London in 1963. He was the third son of Mary and Reggie St.Croix.

In 1968 the family moved to Wapping, where at the time they were one of the first black families. Wapping was a welcoming place, where the community supported each other when times were tough. The Woodley and Smith families in particular often supported Dennis.

From a very young age Dennis developed an unrelenting drive and work ethos. He helped the local milkman with his milk round, running up and down four flights of stairs from early in the morning. After that, rising early for a run remained a habit throughout his whole life!

Dennis the javelin thrower

Dennis attended St Patrick’s infant and junior schools, and St Bernard’s secondary school. It was here that he developed a life-long love for sports. It was soon becoming obvious that Dennis was a very talented athlete, who had a fast throwing arm, so he decided to focus on javelin throwing.

Through years of dedication and hard work he became an outstanding javelin thrower, and he eventually started competing on the national and international circuit. At one point he was one of the top four javelin throwers in the UK. He tried out for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and narrowly missed out on an opportunity to compete for his country.

Dennis started working as a school caretaker in St.Patrick’s Infant School and worked shifts at the John Orwell Sports Centre alongside this. Whilst working there, he began his sports coaching career. Initially he coached football teams, worked in the Wapping youth club, and ran holiday sports schemes. Later on he started Saturday soccer schools, jogging groups and began teaching sports in schools.

Would you get up at 5.30am for a run – on your holiday?

In 1990 Dennis met his Dutch wife Edith, on the steps on the John Orwell sports centre. In 1996 their daughter Amy was born, but she tragically passed away after less than four weeks. By this time running had replaced javelin throwing and Dennis got through this difficult phase of his life by doing what helped him most – by going for long runs. Running had become a way of life. He went for a run on the morning of his wedding, and even when he went on holiday he would get up at 5.30am every morning to go for a run! In 1981 Dennis ran his first London Marathon and until 2011 he managed to run every London Marathon in subsequent years. This is how Dennis became known as the ‘Marathon Man’. His favourite part of the marathon was the Highway stretch in Wapping, where hundreds of people would cheer him on. His fastest marathon time was three hours and seven minutes, narrowly missing out on his goal of running the marathon in under three hours.

Over 30 London marathons

Dennis ran over 30 London marathons and several other marathons including the New York, Barbados and Chicago marathons. Whilst doing this, he raised many thousands of pounds for good causes including the St Joseph’s hospice in Hackney, Elizabeth Ward at the Royal London Hospital (the baby unit where his daughter Amy died), children’s wheel chair charities Get Kids Going and Whizz kids and Macmillan cancer support, after his oldest brother Roy died of cancer.

In 1998 his daughter Yasmine was born, followed by his son Thomas in 2001. Both were a source of pride and joy. After 16 years together, Dennis and Edith finally got married, here in St Patrick’s church, with the wedding reception in the old school building.

By late 2006, Dennis decided to take the big step to leave the John Orwell Sports Centre to follow his passion for teaching children, and he became a self-employed sports coach. He soon started work in a number of Tower Hamlets primary schools, teaching sports to children aged 3 to 11. A year later he was offered more work than he could manage alone, and with the support of his wife Edith, he started to employ other coaches. He mainly employed young people, otherwise out of work, and started them off in their working careers.

Over time his company grew, and it is now employing 25 part time staff, and has a presence in over 40 Tower Hamlets, Hackney and other local authority schools. Teaching sports to children is what Dennis loved doing best, and he even spent every Saturday morning and many holidays teaching sports to children in Tower Hamlets.

Sadly, Dennis was diagnosed with stomach cancer in April 2011. The cancer was at an advanced stage, and was incurable.

Dennis was remarkable in his response to his cancer diagnosis. He never wanted to hear his prognosis, and was determined to lead a normal life, telling very few people what he was suffering from. He worked, coached and ran all the way through chemotherapy, and he started training for the 2012 London Marathon, after having missed the 2011 one.

Even his oncologist recently said that he had never met anyone like Dennis in all his years of dealing with cancer patients. In recognition of all his hard work for charity, for working with kids and for his achievements in sports Dennis was selected to become an Olympic torchbearer for Tower Hamlets.

When it became obvious around April that his cancer was progressing and had spread to his hip and bones he very reluctantly had to stop running. Only a few weeks before he had managed to run 18 miles with his running partner Sarah Smith. He was particularly upset at the fact that he had to miss the London marathon for the 2nd time in a row. However, he was determined to set himself the new walking the 300 meters with the Olympic torch in his hand on July 21st.

This honour was passed on to Yasmine and Thomas who fittingly took his place on that day. You can read about the event in Wapping Gardens here.

The last 8 weeks didn’t go his way, he was admitted to hospital 5 times, and sadly lost his heroic fight for life on Monday June the 11th.

“Truly selfless, generous and forgiving”

Dennis was known by many people, he was always seen in and around Wapping and Tower Hamlets, often on his bike. Recent accounts on Facebook have overwhelmingly shown just how much he was loved and appreciated by a great variety of people, young and old, white and black, from many different communities. People said that he was a gentleman, that he was non-judgmental, that he was interested into what you had to say, that he was truly selfless, generous and forgiving.

People have commented on his patience, his sense of humour, and the fact that he made time for everyone to have a chat. They have called him a role model, and a modest man, who had no idea of the impact he had on people’s lives. They commented on the positive difference he made in their lives; they called him a local legend and a hero. He was all that and more. He was a caring family man, who looked after his mother Mary, who enjoyed nothing more than spending time with his family; doing normal family things. He was a loving husband and a proud father who has left a gaping hole in our lives, and who will be missed by all.

“A meaningful life worth living”

We can all take comfort from the fact that he touched, influenced and moved many lives. His life was far too short, but it was packed with a lifetime’s worth of experiences. It was a meaningful life worth living, and through all this, his memory will live on in many years to come.
We will not forget you Dennis xxx