Memorial run pays tribute to young runner

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By Erin Pottie - Cape Breton Post

COXHEATH — Photos of a smiling young runner as she made her way toward the finish line capture the determination and drive of a Cape Breton teen who died while running in her first full marathon.

Katherine and Steve van Nostrand lead runners, joggers and walkers along Coxheath Road during a 10-kilometre memorial fun run in honour of their daughter Emma.

The pictures show Emma van Nostrand minutes before she collapsed and died during the Toronto Marathon as a result of a rare and undiagnosed heart abnormality.

In one of the photos, the 18-year-old appears relatively strong and in good spirits as she nears the end of the 42-kilometre race.

“That’s how well she looked at that stage of the race,” her father Steve van Nostrand said as he stood next to the collection of photos. “Four kilometres before she collapsed.”

Steve and wife Katherine, who are also marathon runners, led a memorial fun run at Riverview High School in Coxheath on Wednesday to honour their daughter, while also raising money for a scholarship in her name.

More than 800 people took part in the run that followed a route along Coxheath Road and back for 10 kilometres.

Katherine wore a pale yellow and blue strapped tank top — the colours of the Boston Marathon.

“Emma wore this outfit in memory of the Boston Marathon bombing,” said Katherine. “I feel that it’s my responsibility to wear the same outfit in memory of Emma. I loved Emma and was proud of her, and I’m proud to wear the outfit that she wore.”

Katherine said that since Emma’s death on May 5, the family, including Emma’s three siblings, has been overwhelmed by the generosity and support from people who have brought food and comfort to the family.

“Certainly, we know that we have times ahead that are going to be tough, but I think that knowing that everyone’s behind us will help us a lot and our other three kids for sure,” she said.

Prior to the run, Steve told a story about taking a two-year-old Emma for a hike and how she refused to be carried. There were a lot of laughs when the crowd was told about a curse word she let out after dropping her hiking snack, an apple.

“Emma knew how to get effect at that early age,” said Steve. “That was our Emma.”

The Grade 12 student who played basketball and soccer was set to graduate with honours in June. Her family said the scholarship in her honour will be handed out each year, including at her upcoming graduation.

“We want it to truly leave a legacy of what Emma believed in. If we accomplish that through this we’ll be proud parents,” said Katherine.

The van Nostrands hope Wednesday’s event will show people there is no reason to be afraid of running because Emma’s death was due to a birth defect.

“What Emma had was truly one of those conditions that you would never prescreen for,” said Steve. “The test for it is something you would just never give a healthy 18-year-old and also it’s just so difficult to test for.”

Dr. Chris Milburn, an emergency room doctor and organizer of the memorial run, told the Cape Breton Post earlier this week that the running community was shaken by Emma’s death and wanted to show support for her family. He also wanted people to realize that Emma’s death was a rare occurrence that shouldn’t deter anyone from running.

Organizations: Boston Marathon, Toronto Marathon, Riverview High School Cape Breton Post

Geographic location: Coxheath Road, Cape Breton

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