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Just Call Me Danny

Afterword on the 2011 Sporting Life 10k

In the May/June issue of iRun magazine, editor Mark Sutcliffe asked a poignant question: “When will my last run happen?” We all know one day, hopefully far from now, that we will have our own last run. We will likely not know it at the time. We will look back and recognize it, hopefully with misty memories. That being the case, almost any day could be our last run. Would we run differently if we knew? Hell, let’s run as if every run is our last one. Surely, Danny Kassap ran that way, taking every day on the roads and paths as the blessing each run truly is.

Danny did not feel right at the start of the SL10k. He could have packed it in for the day. Instead he started anyway and pulled off when it just wasn’t going to be his day. He didn’t cross the finish line, just walked off to the sidelines and cheered runners in, then chummed around during the awards. Danny checked into a hospital later, and the rest is sad news. But he had made his last run as joyous as any he had. Could we have a better role model? I think not.

I have been chasing Danny in my running fantasy. To just keep up with him, that would be pie in the sky good. To beat him in a race, well, who would expect that it would happen this year? Not the way I envisioned it at all. But when I passed him and crossed the finish line I did just that, as well as 11,000 other lucky people. What a gift he left to us all.

I would like to share my brief acquaintance with Danny. At the start line of the 2008 Alfie Shrubb 8k, I joked with him a bit: “Hey, Danny, can you make it fair? How about giving us a head start? Four minutes? Five? Oh, yeah, you’re getting old…probably can’t run 24 anymore.” He finished in 24:39, a course record. Not so old after all. He would have needed to give me six.

Being a Scotia pacer, not long after in June I showed up at a Running Room for a tune-up run. Afterward, I stayed to try on shoes, and got fitted by no other than Danny. I told him I wanted something a little faster for my next trainers. He pulled out a few pairs, and I settled on the Nike Moto 5’s. This pleased Danny, because Nike was his sponsor. No surprises there, he had a Nike selection in the offering. He then pointed to his feet – same shoes. Wagging his finger he said: “Now you have no more excuses. Next race, run with me.” Danny was referring to the Acura 10 miler, which he placed second in 48:55. Do the math, that is faster than two Alfie’s combined.

I ran into Danny again at his store another time. He asked me how I liked the Moto’s and I said they were quite fast. They felt as if I was running on my toes, which could be a bit uncomfortable. He pulled off his sandals and showed me his feet, more black toe nails than not. “Yes, we run on our toes. We dance the ballet”. For some reason I left him my business card which he tucked away.

Two days before the start of the 2008 Scotia Waterfront Marathon, I emailed the pacer coordinator to let him know I was feeling like crap. A nasty virus was going around and I had caught it. On Sunday of the Scotia, the same day as the Berlin Marathon, foolish but feeling a bit better, I paced the marathon anyway, every so often blowing ropes of long green snot from my nose. I grossed a lot of people out. Half way around the world, I suspect the same virus had met Danny, triggering the antibodies that turned against his heart. He returned from Berlin with his life and a huge debt, but with little memory of the race he had only just started to run.

In the spring of 2010 the phone rang in my office. It was Danny, the last person in the world I would have expected. Imagine, an elite calling to chat with an ordinary runner? He said he thought he saw me running on the belt line. Yes, I was training on it, but after working out times and such, it likely wasn’t me. I called him out on his “slow” 1:09 efforts for the previous years’ fall half marathons. Was he working on returning to proper form? He said he was feeling better, and to just watch. I think it took him a year longer than expected, with this year’s Harry’s Spring Runoff finally putting Danny back among his fast running friends. Something to smile about.

Yes, Danny loved the belt line. A co-worker who used to catch the bus where the belt line crosses Bathurst, would come over to my office: “ I saw him again! He was floating on air, smiling and running like the wind!” My colleague didn’t know who this beautiful runner was, but I knew it could be no other than Danny.

Days before the 2011 SL10k, it seemed everyone around me was getting sick, my family included. It was a nasty bug but I was fighting it off. But I suspect for Danny, it was a nasty bug he had met before.** Just my guess…we may never know, as of this writing, still nothing has been posted regarding his autopsy.

Growing up, everyone called me Danny. I felt it was a bit of a young name, and insisted on Dan or Daniel once I reached University and then into my working years. But the time has come for a change. In honour of my namesake, runner to runner, please call me Danny the next time you see me.

Author

Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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3 comments

  • Beautiful post! He was truly someone special and will be missed. I only knew him from the store as well, but looked forward to his friendly smile which was always present.

  • That was lovely. I didn’t know Danny personally but through your recollection of his spirit I feel I do. Thanks.

  • Danny, thank you for your tribute to my Danny. I don’t know how I found this site, but I was looking to read something about him tonight as I miss him dearly. Your co-worker described him so beautifully and that is how I often remember him. It amazes me just how many lives he has touched in his short life. He was gracious to run with a girl who had no intention to run other than stay fit. I have since run a couple half marathons in his memory, hopefully one day I’ll attempt a full. More than anything, I hope to run again with him someday.

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