University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Marathon Man

Runner Danny Kassap recovers from a near-death event, with a little help from his friends

Danny Kassap’s Coach describes him as “remarkable.”

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kassap arrived in Canada in 2001. He filed a refugee claim, citing political persecution, and over the years has become one of Canada’s best long-distance runners. But this past fall, the U of T Track Club member made headlines of another type. Kassap was in Berlin last September for the city’s marathon – his first as a Canadian citizen. But at the 5-kilometre mark, he collapsed.

What happened is still somewhat of a mystery. Kassap experienced 45 minutes of cardiac arrest, thought to have been brought on by a virus. He was put into a medically induced coma for three days. When he was brought out of it, he had no heart damage, no brain damage. He was up and walking. He was “the same old Danny,” says Ross Ristuccia, his personal coach at U of T – but with some major medical expenses to pay.

Kassap’s medical bills had initially run to about $18,000. His U of T teammates set up a fundraising operation, soliciting online donations as well as collecting cheques and creating a bank account. Ristuccia says he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support, but rather how quickly it came together. “Within 10 days of setting up the account, [the club] had collected about $15,000 – from fellow runners and anonymous donors alike – enough to pay the full bill.” (The German hospital where Kassap was treated forgave some of the debt.) “The guys from the U of T track club…are my family,” says Kassap. “But it was still a big surprise, the kind of effort they put together.”

Kassap now occasionally stops by practices at U of T to lend encouragement. He’s also back at his job as assistant manager of a Running Room store. Following one round of follow-up tests upon his return to Toronto, doctors were unable to find anything wrong with Kassap.

Both athlete and coach are hoping that a clean bill of health – and thus approval to begin running again – will follow a final once-over. “He’s starting to get antsy. We’re not talking races yet, but we’ve talked about getting him into training,” says Ristuccia. “I am hopeful that he’ll be able to get back to the level he was at.” Says Kassap: “…I will never give up.”

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