Cape Breton teen Emma van Nostrand dies after Toronto marathon collapse

Running a marathon can seem like a lonely and singular pursuit. It can seem like once a runner gets on that 42-kilometre stretch of pavement they are on their own, left alone with their thoughts, and their heavy breath and the pain in their joints.

There can be encouragement from the sidelines, celebrations at the finish line. But the running is lonesome, the successes fiercely personal. The failures heavy on their shoulders alone.

We are seeing more these days that this is not the case.

Following the bombing at the Boston Marathon, hearts were filled by stories of those who ran to help. That is a story of tragedy on a massive scale, and it speaks as much to the resiliency of a community as it does a runner’s journey.

But in Toronto on Sunday, there was more proof, direct and personal, that a runner does not face the road alone. They are not alone when they fall.

Emma van Nostrand, an 18-year-old from Cape Breton, N.S., collapsed a few kilometers short of the finish line of Toronto's GoodLife Fitness Marathon, falling to the pavement in medical distress.

Within moments she was surrounded by kin – by runners who, with just paces left in their own personal journeys, abandoned their runs to stand next to a fallen sister. A sister they had never met, who had come to Toronto to run in her first full-marathon.

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“She was surrounded by a whole bunch of people who had no idea who she was, but they were there for her when she needed it most,” said Andrew McKay, who was cheering nearby and called 911 when van Nostrand fell.

In the moments before paramedics arrived, runners stopped to help. Two performed CPR as she lay on the pavement. Many more offered support. It was unsuccessful; the young woman was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

The Cape Breton Post reports van Nostrand had come to Toronto with her parents and was running in her first full marathon.

It is not clear what led to the collapse; people who know the family said she came from a "running family." Her mother was also running the full marathon and her father was participating in a half-marathon.

Father Steve van Nostrand had run in last month's Boston Marathon, when two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds more.

He had completed the run shortly before the explosions and two of his children, 14-year-old Daniel and 13-year-old Alyssa, had been waiting at the finish line shortly before the blasts. They were all unharmed.

“Where the second explosion was, it was across the street close to where they would have been watching for me. Had that gone off earlier, obviously, it wouldn’t have been a good situation,” van Nostrand told the Cape Breton Post in April.

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Steve van Nostrand was a seasoned runner who has finished the Boston Marathon seven times. His daughter was two miles shy of finishing her first marathon when she collapsed in Toronto.

Dr. Chris Millburn, president of the Cape Breton Roadrunners club, told CBC News that van Nostrand was a nice, humble young woman.

"She was great in school, she was good at her sports — I know she played soccer and she ran — and she was focused and good at whatever she took on. She’s a real loss for Cape Breton. She was a young person who was definitely going places,” he told the network.

Van Nostrand’s fall was not the only medical emergency to hit the Toronto marathon. The Toronto Star reports an off-duty Toronto police officer suffered a heart attack while running on Sunday.

Quick help from the sidelines helped save his life. He was saved by strangers, reminiscent of those who came to help van Nostrand on the same track, somewhere down the line.

Marathon running may be a personal mission but runners themselves are not alone. Emma van Nostrand was with family when she fell on Sunday. Her family is not alone in their grief.