Loving tributes have been paid to a Horsham pilot who died suddenly after suffering a heart attack while training for a charity bike ride on the South Downs.
Emergency services including crew from Sussex Air Ambulance battled to save Darren Shirley’s life at Amberley Mount on Saturday January 11, but he passed away that afternoon at the age of 48.
Darren’s online fundraising page received numerous donations earlier that day, including £4 from his 14-year-old daughter, Raien, before news of his death reached the family.
Donations with messages of good luck quickly turned into emotional tributes.
As well as Raien, he leaves behind his wife Ruth, 47, and son Connor, 19.
This week Ruth, who lives in Horsham town centre, spoke of her loss.
She said: “He was absolutely perfect. Our life was absolutely perfect. He was just an amazing person.
“We were still in love and still looking forward to doing lots of things. I had found the one and I felt so lucky.”
The adventurous couple met while working for an airline and tied the knot 17 years ago at a drive-through marriage centre in Las Vegas.
Darren was a pilot for British Airways for 22 years.
Ruth continued: “He was into people giving time. He was never too busy to help someone. He would always get involved which is quite special. It was automatic for him.”
He was inspired by fellow colleague Jim Trott, who founded Brass for Africa - a charity dedicated to improving the lives of young people in Uganda.
Darren was training for a 26 mile bike ride in March with all proceeds going to Jim’s charity for a project to provide a safe haven for vulnerable young girls.
Now Darren’s loved ones have taken on the challenge to ride in his honour. The cause has raised nearly £8,000, but the family is working hard to collect as much money as possible.
Raien, who attends Millais School in Horsham, is giving presentations about her father to staff and pupils and intends to continue fundraising after the bike ride.
Ruth said: “We were coming through the family bit and starting to think about spending the rest of our lives together and part of that was enjoying our lives but also helping others.
“It’s within human nature to be a little self-indulgent, but the fact is there are people who live in the most horrendous conditions and have the most horrendous heartache not just once in their lives but over and over again.”
To find out more about the cause and for a chance to donate visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?pageUrl=2&userUrl=B4Abike&d-49489-p=9