He immigrated to Canada penniless.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
(12-May) — Marathoner Danny Kassap did his final three kilometers last Saturday at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, the same place he did nearly all of his training before he died suddenly on May 2, at just 28 years-old. After a memorial service attended by about 500 people, the hearse containing Kassap’s body acted as a pace vehicle and about 200 runners did a slow jog to the grave site where the African-born athlete, who came to Canada penniless for the 2001 Francophone Games, was laid to rest.
“It was not my idea,” said University of Toronto Track Club member Jay Brecher who organized the two-day fund drive which allowed Kassap to be buried at Mount Pleasant, one of Canada’s most expensive cemeteries. ”He had this idea, a perfect thing to do,” Brecher said of his clubmate Jamie Black. ”Once the casket was loaded in the hearse, it would drive a 3-kilometer loop and have it end at his final resting place. Approximately 200 people participated in that slow jog, much slower than Danny would have done in his training. Some were wearing black colored running shoes so they looked like dress shoes.”
Days earlier, immediately after Kassap’s death, Brecher and his clubmates decided that it would be most fitting if he could be buried at Mount Pleasant. They contacted cemetery officials and were shocked at what they heard.
“Our friends in the running community said that if he could be buried in the Mount Pleasant it would be the perfect final resting place for him,” Brecher, a 37 year-old lawyer who writes legal text books, said. ”Being in the heart of Toronto it is one of the most expensive places to be buried in Toronto, if not in Canada. To have him buried there, we had to raise CAD 32,000 in two days.”
Riding a powerful wave of grief for their fallen friend, Brecher and clubmate and freelance journalist Alex Hutchinson moved swiftly into action. They quickly built a website, DannyKassapMemorial.com, to collect funds, and began promoting it by whatever means they could. They blitzed message boards, e-mail lists, and wrote a press release. They managed to get stories printed in two of Canada’s biggest newspapers, the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail, and even landed a radio interview. In an overwhelming response, the money began to roll in, and the CAD 32,000 goal was reached, and then exceeded.
“Very early on Saturday morning, on the day of the funeral, the total amount came to CAD 42,188.35,” Brecher said. ”At that point I wrote a check for CAD 6.65 to make it CAD 42,195.00 total. I ended my eulogy by saying, ‘Congratulations Danny. You just completed your marathon.’”
Kassap, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and received Canadian citizenship in 2008, had dropped out of the Sporting Life 10-K on May 1, in Toronto. He didn’t feel well, and later that night had difficulty breathing, according to Brecher.
“Like any distance runner, he had a bad race and intended that the next one would be better,” Brecher explained in a telephone interview. ”As I understand it, he woke up late at night, had difficulty breathing. His girlfriend called an ambulance, she administered CPR, he wasn’t breathing, and they were unable revive him.”
While the cause of Kassap’s death remains unknown, the athlete had nearly died in 2008 at the BMW Berlin Marathon when he was struck by a heart problem which landed him in the hospital for two weeks. His treatment there left him with CAD 18,000 in medical bills, and the Brecher’s team raised the funds then to allow Kassap to meet those expenses.
“He collapsed and suffered with what was diagnosed as a ventricular fibrillation,” Brecher said. ”He had to stay in the hospital for two weeks. He left with medical bills of approximately 18,000. I was part of a fundraising campaign at that time to help Danny in his time of need. It resulted in all the money to pay those bills in just a matter of weeks.”
Kassap’s best-known achievement in athletics was winning the 2004 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2:14:50 in his debut at the distance, beating two well-regarded Kenyans, Joseph Kahugu and Joseph Nderitu. But to Brecher and his clubmates, it was Kassap’s gentle spirit that they will remember most.
“The lasting impression is that he was such a warm and generous spirit,” Brecher said. ”Everyone who knew him, even if a little bit, fell in love with him and wanted to help him. That’s clearly born out in our fundraising effort this week. It clearly surpasses what I though was possible.”