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Widow of much-loved basketball coach tells of sorrow one year on

By Claire McNeilly

Published 27/05/2016

Teresa Sears with late husband Torraine and son Tony
Teresa Sears with late husband Torraine and son Tony

The widow of a popular basketball coach has said she's still struggling to come to terms with his sudden death a year ago.

Teresa Sears' husband Torraine had just turned 44 when he collapsed and died following a massive heart attack.

His passing on May 25 last year stunned the sport he had excelled in as both player and coach, and brought "unimaginable grief" to Teresa and the couple's young son Tory.

This day last year she was trying desperately to make sense of it all, and hoping to hold herself together long enough to prepare for a funeral she had believed would be decades into the future.

Today, she's getting ready to attend a special basketball tournament to celebrate the life of her hugely popular husband.

The event, hosted by the Andersonstown Tigers club for whom Torraine was a coach for many years, will take place at De La Salle school in west Belfast between today and Sunday.

It will feature teams from all the towns and cities the 6ft 6in gentle giant had been involved with, including Dublin, Cork, Sligo and Manchester. Young Tory will also take part, representing an Ulster/NI select side.

It's hoped the tournament will become an annual event in memory of the former star player who was, among many other vocations, head of PE and Sport at Woodlands College, Bangor.

But although Teresa - daughter of renowned boxing coach Sean Canavan - appreciates and supports the venture, she doesn't need anything to remind her of the huge gap left by her late husband.

"It has been an extremely difficult year for us," said the 46-year-old.

"I found it almost impossible to understand what happened because Torraine was such a fit person. But the coroner said there was a problem with his aorta."

The Dundrod accounts administrator recalled that Torraine had been training with her father shortly before he died.

"He'd just finished at the boxing club and on the way home he called in to visit our friends in Lisburn," she said.

"I got a phone call to say he had taken ill. It took me only minutes to get there ... but when I arrived he was already dead. There was no bringing him back. He just collapsed."

Torraine had earlier been enjoying a day off work with his family although, according to Teresa, his life was one of seemingly perpetual motion.

"He and Tory had been doing some gardening and playing basketball, and we'd all gone swimming too," she said.

"He was in great form. He asked what he was getting for his dinner later. And then he just never came home."

Teresa met Torraine, a native of Virginia, when he came to Northern Ireland with his American high school team in 1988.

"I was 18; you could say it was love at first sight," she said.

"He came back to Northern Ireland, and I went out to the States several times after that. We got married in 1998 and set up home, firstly in Carrickfergus and then in Dundrod. We would have been married 17 years last December."

Torraine Sears was one of the most popular players to grace a basketball court in Ireland. He joined Star of the Sea in 1992, having played for Oldham Celtics in England.

Although he made his reputation in Ireland as a player, he is also fondly remembered as a passionate coach with the Tigers underage programme and Basketball NI underage development teams.

This weekend's Torraine Sears Memorial Tournament has filled Teresa with mixed emotions.

It has already been a heartbreaking week for her and Tory, who "didn't do much" to celebrate their birthdays (46th and 10th respectively), which fell within days of the first anniversary of Torraine's death.

"I'm happy that the basketball club are putting on this tournament," she said.

"They're doing it because of the amount of help and coaching my husband did for them so in return they feel this is the way they can acknowledge that.

"It's a lovely idea, especially for Tory; he sees them doing this for his daddy. I'm looking forward to it but I'm also nervous about it at the same time."

Mrs Sears said she had to find the strength to get through the dark days of last year for her only son's sake.

"It was very difficult for Tory at the start because his daddy coached him for five years. So to go in to the same gym after his daddy passed away was very difficult for him; being coached by someone else. Difficult for me to watch, too.

"But you have to get on and deal with daily life. I'm not going to say 'as normal' because nothing is ever normal now, but you do have to do it."

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