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.

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.


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36 Comments

  • Jamie Black says:

    Very nice, heartfelt article. Danny will be truly missed by many. I knew Danny very well and it is only for this reason I point out he was 28; it was pet peeve of his when people got his age wrong!

    • Refton Blair says:

      Hey Jamie
      I know this is more of a personal lost than many of us who did not know him so well. I know this is a difficult day for all of you from the U of T team who first helped Danny in his time(s) of need. Our praisers are with you and Danny’s girl friend

    • Shara Black says:

      I will greatly miss my ‘little brother’
      a genuinely kind-hearted, exceptional person, who’s love for running and for people seemed to have no bounds.

  • Jay Brecher says:

    May you rest in peace, Danny. We’ll be thinking of you every time we run along the beltline, or the Cedarvale Ravine, or Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Your broad smile, good nature, and playful sense of humour will always be with us.

  • walter faion says:

    DANNY rest in peace, I will miss seeing you on the beltline with the great smile. saying go faster now.

  • ali drynan says:

    Danny’s smile was contagious…being around him was like being infused with energy and optimism. I still feel as if I’ll see him sailing around TO in apparently effortless runs.

  • Rick Ball says:

    I used to go into the Toronto Running Room store and Danny would give me lots of great advice with my running. He was so positive and fun to be around. I am shocked to hear this sad news as he was a super nice guy and a great athlete. I truly believe he had a shot at the Canadian marathon record if he hadn’t of got the heart condition. He will be truly missed.

  • Adrienne Stewart says:

    This is a huge shock.

    Danny was a joy.
    Very funny, very friendly, and a very caring person.

    He would never miss an opportunity to jump right in
    to my photographs! The camera loved him!

    I will miss seeing his larger than life,
    bright smile at all of the races.

  • predrag says:

    I remember, we came in Canada at the same time, had a same dreams, but unfortunately his dream will never come trought.
    Danny, you’ll be missed.
    R.I.P. my dear friend and let the angels take care of you.
    Predrag&Biljana

  • Andrew Catton says:

    Sad to hear of Danny’s passing. I didn’t know him well, but I know he always had a smile, and loved the sport.

  • John Loney says:

    As a high school Law teacher, and runner, I have used Danny’s story many times to point out the lengths people will go to to gain the rights and freedoms many of us take for granted. In fact, I referenced him just this election-day morning, prior to hearing of his passing.
    Very sad indeed, but the story will endure, as will that smile.

  • Harvey Mitro says:

    While doing some drills on my favourite hill in the Cedarvale ravine about 8 years ago, I was impressed by a young man flying up and down the same hill multiple times. I introduced myself to Danny Kassap that day and joined him for several runs. Because I was quite fit, I lasted a full 5 repetitions before exhaustion reduced me to a spectator. Danny went on to complete 20 reps and I knew that I was watching a rising star. On our many meetings since that day, Danny always had a kind word and a moment to talk. While running this morning, one of Danny’s good friends gave me this sad news. We have lost a good Canadian, and our running community has lost a friend.

  • Nelson Ndereva Njeru says:

    As a friend and fellow athlete: Canada and the running community will miss Danny’s inspirational commitments. He inspired and always offered directional information to anyone who approached him. Personally, Danny was a brave, talented relentless front runner. I will miss a friend.

  • Friend says:

    I spent many hours chatting with him as I work near Commerce Court; I would spend my lunch and breaks with him to talk about running. His sense of humour was always endearing; also, I would run into him on the Beltline, or the Cedarvale Ravine, or Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He was always an inspiration! Talking to him or just watching him during a training run. I remember once he asked me if I ran Around the Bay (30K); I said yes! Then he smiled and let me know he did a 42K training run that day (although he was planning 45K, but he said he decided to cut short); he never failed to make me laugh! God Bless Him…may he rest in peace.

  • brian bannan says:

    Here is an article I wrote about my friend Danny. Hopefully not too long… He will be missed

    When I think of Danny Kassap, I am sad and angry and fiercely proud. I am sad because more people didn’t get to know him. I knew Danny for just over 2 months, but over those 2 months his word became our running gospel. It is an intoxicating feeling when your energies are 100% committed to achieving a goal. In the fall of 2009, my cousin Matt, my girlfriend Sara and I were running the NYC marathon to raise money for cancer research. I had recently been diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma and this was our way of fighting back. Matt and I met Danny by complete chance. We needed a coach and a guy at the running room gave us Danny’s number. We did some research and found that Danny had won the Toronto Marathon a couple years before and that he had also almost died in a race in Berlin. Oh yeah, for Danny marathons weren’t endurance tests, they were races. We asked him one time if he was running in an upcoming marathon and he replied ‘Yes, I am running, but I am not racing.” And we understood.

    Danny ran us around the Beltline, Mt Pleasant cemetery and Winston Churchill park. He ran us around tracks and through ravines and up and down hills. He told us what to eat, when to run, when to sleep and he told us ‘to stick’. To stick meant to run on the heels of the guy in front of you; to keep the pace. Danny would set a wicked pace and then he would tell us ‘to stick’ to him. And we did, because he told us to.

    I am angry because it isn’t fair that Danny was taken from us so soon. He was still going to become a husband, a father, an Olympian. He had many more lives to impact. People would run across him for a period of time and be forever touched by what he brought to their lives. I am sure Danny was no saint. He had a mischievious sense of humour and I am certain he wasn’t perfect. But no matter what baggage you brought to the track or to a run, it was going to disappear quickly when you saw Danny laughing or teasing you.

    I am fiercely proud because I got to run with danny; got to know him. A few weeks back Matt and I were talking about calling Danny again and running with him this summer. We were going to do another marathon and re-unite the old gang. I am proud because Danny probably had a thousand gangs. A thousand people who had raced or run or laughed with him. Danny was a special man. Not because he was fast… and make no mistake, he was very fast! But because if you ran into someone who knew Danny, they would have a ton of stories to share. Danny made you feel that you were special. He gave you his knowledge and his confidence and a piece of his heart. Maybe that is why his heart gave out, because he already given so many pieces away.

    A lot has change since 2009. Our lives have changed and things are not so simple. There is no race to be run, no focus for all our enrgies and our fears and our passions. But I know, very soon, I will lace up my Nikes. Nikes? Well, Danny wore Nikes. I will lace them up and I will run out the door and I will smile. I will think of Danny and chuckle and I will stick and I will run like I have never run before.

    If you see a guy running down the streets with tears streaming down his face, I am not sad. I am celebrating my friend’s life with every stride

    Rest in peace Danny
    The Bannan boys

    Brian Bannan
    Matt Bannan

    • Friend says:

      Thank you for sharing your story; I will now remember Danny and his wonderful smile when I “stick” during my next race.
      I will always keep this in mind and where it came from.

    • Diane says:

      You guys descibed Danny in a way I just couldn’t express. Thank you for sharing what I would have wished to say, but struggle to over tears.

    • lorilgeorge says:

      What a wonderful story of friendship and inspiration.I will think of him as I learn to ”stick” in my running

  • Logue says:

    What a loss. Rest in peace Danny, you were a happy-go-lucky breath of fresh air.

  • Mary Ibbs Studholme says:

    Danny, you are true angel and I can only think you are still running in heaven. My heart mourns your loss. God Bless. xo

  • Wendy Santi says:

    I knew Danny through the Running Room. He was so memorable because he was so personable. He remembered me after my first purchase from him and welcomed me by name thereafter. He was my favorite salesperson in Toronto. Such a loss…

  • Linda says:

    I am in shock. That smiling face. Thank you for your story, Brian and Matt. You were fortunate to have known him and trained with him. He was always a joy to deal with — knowing him only through my encounters with him at the Running Room. He will be missed. I dedicate my training run to him tonight.

  • JC Elliott says:

    Danny had been ALWAYS helpful & friendly to me, a maasive “non-runner”, who none the less taught at his store.

    If I came in grumpy, he would cheer me. He had expressed interest the CF, and I provided him details on where to get stuff, as he wished. Even when it was cold (from the Congo, remember?), he would still be cheerful, if only for having a job inside…..8-)

    For myself and likely countless other Running Room Clients, Staff & Running Club participants, Danny and his smile will be terribly missed.

  • John La Prairie says:

    I knew Danny from the Running Room where I teach half marathon clinics. He and I had talked many times about racing each other. I worked hard to simply keep it as talk for my own sake.
    My son Malcolm was with me at the Running Room one day and Danny gave him a panda bear which he had signed. He told Malcolm to hang on to it because he was the first person to get an official Danny Kassap autograph and it would be worth millions when he became the first Canadian to win the Olympic marathon. Malcolm keeps it on his shelf.

  • Amy Studholme says:

    I met Danny in 2001, from the moment I met him, I knew he was an angel. Danny’s strength and courage are greater than almost anyone that has ever been in my life. Danny was an inspiration and a ray of sunshine who always had a smile on his face, despite all the he endured in his short life. Danny was a one of a king gentle sole who left an impression with everyone he met. I am so deeply touched by his passing, as all I recall is his remarkable laugh, positive attitude, and his caring heart. Danny, you have left such an impression on me and the world. You are a hero, and will forever be in my heart. God bless.

  • Amy Studholme says:

    I met Danny in 2001, from the moment I met him, I knew he was an angel. Danny’s strength and courage are greater than almost anyone that has ever been in my life. Danny was an inspiration and a ray of sunshine who always had a smile on his face, despite all the he endured in his short life. Danny was a one of a king gentle soul who left an impression with everyone he met. I am so deeply touched by his passing, as all I recall is his remarkable laugh, positive attitude, and his caring heart. Danny, you have left such an impression on me and the world. You are a hero, and will forever be in my heart. God bless.

  • sezme says:

    Rest in peace, Danny. You were an inspiration.

  • shaka zulu says:

    i meet Danny too back in 2001, he was a very nice guy, always smiled, polite and happy. Im still shocked at his sudden death, always hoped i would see him compete for Canada some day, RIP Danny you will always be remembered

  • Guy Kasweka says:

    I met Danny in 2001 when he moved to Toronto, I took him to Church and he became family. I remember of him as being very polite and cool. He loved Psalm 23 according to one of his friends:

    1 The LORD is my shepherd;
    I shall not want.
    2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
    He leads me beside the still waters.
    3 He restores my soul;
    He leads me in the paths of righteousness
    For His name’s sake.

    4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil;
    For You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

    5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
    You anoint my head with oil;
    My cup runs over.
    6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    All the days of my life;
    And I will dwell[a] in the house of the LORD
    Forever.
    PS 23

  • Andrea Heacock says:

    I met Danny in 2001. I was his primary worker at Covenant House Toronto, where he stayed upon arriving in Canada. We worked together on his refugee claim, I listened to his stories about what he had endured in the Congo, and what his aspirations once being granted Canadian Citizenship would be. He was always smiling and fun loving. Given what he had come from it was amazing to see him so happy and full of life. Once his time was through at Covenant House he would visit me often, coming back to let me know how he was doing and where he was running next. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. May he rest in peace.

  • Beth Shaw says:

    Danny
    You fit me for my most recent pair of running shoes. You made me laugh every time I came into the Commerce Court Running Room and made me fee like a queen. That’s a unique quality to be able to make everyone feel special. You made every visit fun. I know you’ll be running with every Canadian who tries to win a marathon. You will be missed but always remembered.

  • Danny was a kind, joyful young man who became known as my fourth son. He was guided in many ways by my son Jamie who was a mentor and advisor to Danny. We will miss his smile and his delightful personality- he was one of a kind.

    Jim Black

  • Darlene Paul says:

    I worked with Danny at the fish and chip store and we stayed in touch after he left to go work at the running room. I will remember his little boy smile his laugh and above all else his hugs that i called “Danny Hugs”!
    You will always have a piece of my heart.
    RIP DANNY

  • reanna stocker says:

    the service was great, It was so touching, and inspirational, I only met Danny last fall, and though I always had many excuses not to run with him in the morning, I will miss having some one to talk to about shin slints and blisters, or who shared my excitement when i discovered a new running trail. he was a patiant and gracious man who I wish I hadn’t taken for granted, but was lucky to be befreinded by him.
    may u rest in peace and run..

  • Runner says:

    I only met Danny a couple of times when he came out to speak to our running group. Danny, i think was one in a million, a hundred million. He is a hero to me, he truly inspired me and i cannot think of a single other person i can say that about. Danny had the most amazing attitude. I will never forget him speaking about his setbacks he said “why would i worry about that, that was the past” Words for me to live by. The world is less without you Danny.

  • Richard Beeson says:

    “Easy Life” Danny – you are missed and you were special.

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