Tourney, awards, bursary among Ethan Denum’s legacy
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Photo: Ethan Denum played his last water polo game in 2016. (Courtesy Saanich Water Polo Club)
Tributes are flooding in for a beloved student and talented water polo player who died too soon.
Ethan Carmichael Denum, a high-performance athlete and member of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, died of cancer in January at age 19.
“In the water polo community, if you say Ethan Denum, they all know who it is. When he enters a room, he’s just a light bulb, just a bright light,” said his mother, Evette Denum.
“He was always happy. That happiness rubbed off on people. I don’t think he had any enemies because he just found a friend in everyone.”
More than 700 people turned up at his memorial service, including friends, parishioners, water polo players, and students from Charles Best Secondary School where he was a student.
“He was probably the most energetic person I know,” said Ethan D’Souza, a friend and water polo coach. “He didn’t know the meaning of the word quit.”
Ethan was also a coach and referee, working so hard he gained an invitation to the Top 30 camp for the Canadian junior international team, his coach said.
“He will be remembered by everyone as someone that had the most infectious energy,” D’Souza said. “Life was too short to do things he wasn’t interested in.”
Ethan’s legacy is already taking shape. A water polo tournament held in his memory in Coquitlam a few weeks ago may become an annual event, and Evette said there are other plans to honour her son: a goalie award at the annual Valentine’s water polo tournament, an aquatic award through the Coquitlam Sharks, and an Ethan Denum bursary with the Vancouver Foundation.
The community has raised $15,000 for the bursary, including $3,000 that came from the sale of T-shirts with one of Ethan’s most-used sayings: “Stay lit.”
Evette knows how expensive high-performance water polo training can get. The $700 awards will be distributed annually to a high-performance water polo player to cover training or travel expenses.
Ethan started swimming when he was 9, signed up for water polo at his pool, and played for the next 10 years, both recreationally and competitively. In 2012, he was invited to the national team and played as goalie.
When he found out his school, Charles Best Secondary, didn’t have a water polo team, he started one, coaching it to a championship victory in Grade 12.
But by then, cancer was already taking a toll. He first noticed something was wrong when he had a hard time breathing during training in Calgary. “That was probably the start of his cancer,” Evette said.
Ethan’s breathing problems and chest pain didn’t go away, and in Grade 12 Ethan stepped back from high-performance water polo to focus on recreational games and refereeing. He also joined the Charles Best cheerleading team, winning several competitions.
In January 2015, a few months before his high school graduation, he underwent more respiratory tests that failed to identify the problem. It was only in December 2015, after going to the emergency room with chest pains, that he found out there was a tumor between his heart and lungs.
He went through numerous treatments and therapies over the next year. It was “as if cancer was like a job, or a project. It was just something he was involved in,” Evette said.
When they learned the cancer would probably take his life, Evette told her son to make a list of things he’d like to do and use funds saved for college to achieve them.
“He said: ‘Mom, what are you talking about? I have the most beautiful life.’”
Ethan watched his friends play a water polo game for the last time Dec. 17. He rang in 2017 from a hospital bed and died Jan. 7. Among the hundreds who attended his memorial service was the first doctor who diagnosed his cancer.
“You cannot not remember Ethan,” the doctor told Evette. “He leaves his mark everywhere.”