Teen who died running marathon valued family, friends

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By Erin Pottie - Cape Breton Post

COXHEATH — A Cape Breton teen who died running her first marathon is being remembered for her drive and value of friendships and family.

Emma van Nostrand

Emma van Nostrand, 18, collapsed Sunday during the Goodlife Toronto Marathon with just over two and a half miles left in the race.

After a sleepless night, Emma’s parents Steve and Katherine van Nostrand returned to the Coxheath home they share with their three other children.

Steve said Monday they were “going through all the things — coulda, woulda, shoulda.”

“Just memories of Emma and why would this happen to Emma. Just the normal things you go through when you lose a child, especially at that age.”

The trip to Toronto was a family affair for the van Nostrands, as Steve completed the city’s half-marathon, while Katherine and a cousin of Emma’s completed the full marathon.

“Her cousin had seen that she was being taken away to an ambulance but didn’t know what the circumstances were, so she finished the race,” said Steve. “My wife caught up with her just before she finished the race, so the two of them knew that Emma had needed help, but figuring she was just dehydrated or something. We didn’t know the seriousness of it at the time.”

Her father said Emma felt ready to run her first marathon, having already run three half-marathons in the past 18 months.

“She actually knocked seven minutes off her previous best in the half-marathon, so I mean she was in excellent shape this spring. She’s been going to a personal trainer for a year and a half now, three days a week.”

He said Emma had no prior health issues and there is no known heart disease on either side of the family.

After the marathon, the van Nostrands visited a medical tent to find Emma, but were told she had been transported to nearby St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

After a 45-minute taxi ride, the family arrived at hospital and was told the terrible news.

“Obviously, it’s very devastating for us because we expected to pick up our daughter after being dehydrated,” said Steve. “We expected Emma to be mad that she didn’t finish the race, because she would have been very mad to not finish.”

On Monday, a crisis intervention team visited Riverview High School where Emma was a Grade 12 honour student, a ‘AAA’ basketball player and a ‘AA’ soccer player.

Charles Sheppard, school service co-ordinator for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, said the group of guidance counsellors, school psychologists and social workers will return to the school today.

A second crisis team will provide support to students at Malcolm Munroe where two of Emma’s siblings attend classes.

Emma’s father said she had only returned to high school this semester after spending three months in France.

“She lined that up on her own, she was a very focused, driven person,” said Steve. “So about this time last year she came to her mother and I and said ‘I'm doing a French exchange to France three months next fall.’”

The teen was planning to attend Dalhousie University in the fall to pursue a bachelor of science degree in psychology, hoping for entry into the neuroscience program the following year.

She was also in the process of interviewing for a summer job as a lifeguard and had picked out her prom gown for her upcoming graduation.

The van Nostrands are awaiting a final report from a Toronto coroner. The family was also planning to talk to a man who was with Emma when she collapsed by phone on Monday night.

“The best information we have to date is she collapsed and never regained consciousness. So we don’t believe she suffered.

“It sounds like a situation that was predisposed and not necessarily caused by the marathon but brought out by the marathon.”

The van Nostrands and their two younger children recently returned unharmed from the deadly Boston Marathon, which Steve completed for the seventh time in a row.

Emma was able to donate some of her organs.

“She believed really big in helping others that way.”

The family is planning a wake and funeral for their daughter later in the week.

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Recent comments

  • Dorothy Parker
    May 07, 2013 - 07:47

    Such a terrible tragedy . my thoughts and prayers go out to the family

  • judy griffiths
    May 07, 2013 - 07:00

    My thoughts are with you all. Emma sounds like a wonderful young woman and died way before her time. Remember all the good times you had as a family!!