Sept. 11, 2006
By Andrew Duffy, The Ottawa Citizen
Crash leaves champion runner dead: Quebec cross-country star recently moved to Gatineau to train for marathons
OTTAWA -- A high-speed crash on Highway 417 east of Ottawa has taken the life of one of Canada's most accomplished distance runners, Quebec's Emilie Mondor, who represented her country at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Ms. Mondor, 25, who made her name in international track as a 5,000-metre runner, had moved to Gatineau last month to begin training in a new discipline, the marathon, with renowned Ottawa track coach, Ken Parker. Her goal was to return to the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
"It's such a tragic loss," said Mr. Parker, founder and coach of the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team.
"She was so young, so full of life and running. She was embarking on something new and challenging in which she had great hopes and aspirations. In my mind, she was almost guaranteed to succeed at it. It's a shame."
Ms. Mondor ran 29 kilometres on Friday in two hours and four minutes during a training session with Mr. Parker -- he was on his bicycle -- that took them through Rockcliffe Park and alongside the Ottawa River as far as Orleans.
It was the longest run of Ms. Mondor's life and it left her exhilarated.
"We chatted the whole way: she kept commenting on how good she felt," said Mr. Parker. "She was just really pleased that she could run for two hours and feel so good. I was pleasantly surprised because she was adapting to the longer runs much faster than I thought she was going to.
"We were just very optimistic about everything." At about 3 p.m., after discussing some training details, Ms. Mondor left Mr. Parker's Rothwell Heights home to drive to Mascouche, just north of Montreal. She was to attend a high school reunion that evening and visit with her family over the weekend.
According to the Ontario Provincial Police, Ms. Mondor lost control of her car after passing two other vehicles at 4:30 p.m.
She was ejected from her 2004 Hyundai coupe as it rolled into a treed area beyond the highway's shoulder, near Hawkesbury. Her car was travelling with such force, police said, that it "cut down" trees in its path.
Critically injured, Ms. Mondor was airlifted to the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital, where she died hours later.
Her father, Francois, yesterday described his daughter as an intense and dedicated athlete who always involved her family in the drama of her life and athletic career.
"She was a girl, who when she engaged a goal, she made all efforts to succeed. She did that always," he told the Citizen in a telephone interview yesterday.
Ms. Mondor's death comes just months after she had launched a remarkable comeback that underscored her drive and determination. She had been one of the world's premier distance runners in 2004, finishing 17th in the 5,000-metres in the Athens Olympic Games.
The same year, she finished eighth in the women's 8,000-metre race at the world cross-country championships. The year before, she had placed 13th in the World Championships in Paris, becoming the first Canadian woman to record a time under 15 minutes in the 5,000 metres (14:59.68).
But her ascendant career was stopped in its tracks in late 2004 when she suffered what would become the first in a series of five stress fractures. She was eventually diagnosed with a rare medical condition that inhibited her body's absorption of calcium. Her bones deteriorated and she developed osteoporosis.
For more than a year, her competitive career was in limbo. Indeed, she told the Citizen in a recent interview that she had decided in January of this year to retire because she couldn't train enough to compete.
Then, in February, she began a course of treatment with an experimental drug, Forteo, that allowed her to increase the intensity of her training.
She competed in races in Montreal and Toronto. Then in May, in Ottawa, she finished third in the MDS Nordion 10-kilometre women's race. She had by then decided to abandon the track discipline that had brought her international success to concentrate on the marathon.
She had been enamored with the marathon since beginning her track career at the age of 14. Ms. Mondor played soccer, softball and volleyball as a teenager, but concentrated almost exclusively on running by the time she was 16.
"She kept pushing herself and she kept getting better," her father said. "She was willing to do whatever it took to improve."
She studied biological science at McGill and at Simon Fraser University, where she trained for several years with coach Mike Lonergan. He remembered her yesterday as focused and single-minded.
"She was gifted with a good physical machine -- all great runners have a good machine -- but she also was very tough," said Mr. Lonergan. "That was what set her apart." Ms. Mondor was supposed to return to Ottawa tomorrow for another training session in Rockcliffe Park with Mr. Parker.
She was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia next weekend for a half marathon, but she was particularly excited about the prospects of competing in her first full marathon in New York City in November, said Mr. Parker.
Ms. Mondor had received the distinct honour of an invitation into the elite New York field. "She was keen about her workouts and she was enthusiastic about her sport," he said. "She loved running and it was infectious.
"You couldn't help but get pumped with her bouncing around and with the performances she was putting on."
Mr. Parker found out about the accident yesterday morning as word of the tragedy travelled on the Internet among track watchers. Members of the Hawkesbury OPP detachment continue to probe the crash that took Ms. Mondor's life, but investigators said yesterday that they believe "speed was a contributing factor."