Danny Kassap, a popular and resilient Toronto runner, died suddenly early Monday morning. Through the Danny Kassap Memorial Fund, friends have been able to raise enough money to bury him in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the site where he and his group regularly trained.
The visitation is Friday evening from 5-9 p.m., with the funeral service taking place on Saturday afternoon.
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Kassap is well-known for his perseverance through immigration and health problems. He came to Canada as a refugee from the Congo in 2001, quickly setting up roots in Toronto and becoming an active member in the community. Kassap was driven to achieve his ultimate goal of running the marathon for Canada at the Olympics. He appeared to take a huge step towards realizing that dream when he ran 2:14:50, winning the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2004.
“Perhaps his greatest moment was his unexpected victory,” race director Alan Brookes said. “It propelled both the event and a young refugee who was working in a fish and chip shop to get by, to national and some international recognition.”
Kassap’s success on the roads came at a furious pace, in contrast to the bureaucratic delays he experienced while applying for Canadian citizenship — he didn’t receive the document until 2008. He finished 15th in the London Marathon that year, just two places behind the Olympic Champion Stefano Baldini.
Canadian Running senior editor Alex Hutchinson was a close friend of Kassap’s and wrote about Kassap’s immigration struggles. “All of us who knew him felt anger and shame at the way the Canadian system was treating him,” Hutchinson said, “but — incredibly — he never became bitter. Instead, he kept smiling, working hard, and waiting for his opportunity to compete for Canada.”
On Sept. 28, 2008, Kassap’s life changed forever. Near the 5K mark of the Berlin Marathon, he collapsed. Medical officials gave Kassap repeated shocks with a defibrillator to keep him alive. Later, doctors determined that Kassap had suffered a rare heart problem, ventricular fibrillation, an uncoordinated contraction of the cardiac muscle. It was brought on by an existing inflammation of the heart, which was caused by a cold virus. Kassap was in a medically induced coma for several days, but refused to give up fighting.
Within months, he returned to running, once again chasing his Olympic dream. Doctors continued to monitor his condition and advised him not to train too hard.
Kassap, a regular fixture at Canada Running Series events, finished third at the Harry’s Spring Run-Off in April. On Sunday, the day before his death, he competed in the Sporting Life 10K, but he didn’t finish the race. Friends say he looked fine as they chatted in the finish area.
Kassap also inspired and encouraged runners of all levels at his most recent job at the Running Room. A popular employee at the Toronto Commerce Court location, Kassap always had a smile and helpful advice for anyone who came into the store.
“This is a tremendous loss to the Canadian running community, and to the many people who knew and loved Danny,” said Jay Brecher, communications director for the University of Toronto Track Club, and co-founder of the Danny Kassap Fund.
“When Danny suffered a heart attack while running the Berlin Marathon in 2008, he was left with nearly $20,000 in medical bills. Without hesitation, runners from across Canada donated generously to the Danny Kassap Fund, raising the full amount in less than three weeks. This was a testament to how well-liked and respected Danny was throughout the running community. We will miss him greatly.”
Kassap passed away at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, but the exact cause hasn’t been reported. Funeral arrangements are underway. Kassap was 28.