Hamilton running community devastated by jogger death

Zoë Nudell, 33, was hit by a car during her evening jog on Wednesday. She died of her injuries Thursday night, and that is hitting the local running community hard.

Zoë Nudell, 33, remembered as 'outrageous, fearless and a very special person'

A memorial is being planned for a Halifax woman who was hit but an alleged impaired driver while jogging in Hamilton. 1:42

Terry Brown jogs the Escarpment Rail Trail everyday.

And everyday, he crosses the street to continue his jog along that trail where Charlton Avenue East sharply curves and turns into Wentworth Street. It's the very site where Zoë Nudell, a 33-year old artist, was hit by a car on Wednesday while she was jogging.

“You got to have your heads up, you got to really be careful,” he said, taking a break from his jog. “It’s like anything, you’ve got to watch the traffic and be very conscious of the fact that it’s blind.”

Nudell, who only moved to Hamilton from Halifax in mid-October, died Thursday night, just a day after being struck on her evening run at the corner — a place runners where runners know to be cautious and one that, some say, needs better lighting and signs.

She was jogging Wednesday around 6:30 p.m. on the sidewalk on the north side of Charlton Street East, said Cst. Debbie McGreal, a spokesperson for the Hamilton Police. The jogger attempted to cross the street to head either onto the rail trail or up the Wentworth stairs, McGreal said.  

Suddenly, a car hit her. Its 42-year-old driver is now charged with impaired driving causing death.

Cheryl Howell-Townson, a staff member at the Runner’s Den in Westdale, gasped when she heard the news of the jogger’s death.

“I jog there,” she said. “I’m devastated.”

Howell-Townson takes learn-to-run clinics from the Runner’s Den and her own running groups in that area. It’s typically Saturday morning and light outside when she runs in that area, but its a popular spot for joggers at any time of day, she said.

“I usually advise runner to wear reflective clothing and flashing lights to make themselves seen,” Howell-Townson said, and pauses. “But would that have done any good if it was an impaired driver?”

'She had a huge heart'

Born in the United States, Nudell was raised in Halifax, her family part of the city’s Shambhala Buddhist community.

Artist Zoë Nudell moved to Hamilton from Halifax only about two weeks before she died. (Halifax Shambhala Centre)

“I will remember her as a outrageous, fearless and a very special person,” said Rhiannon Wells, the director of the Halifax Shambhala Centre and a friend of Nudell’s since childhood.

An artist and former sailing instructor, Nudell was “a real leader,” an athlete and an avid reader, Wells said.

“She had a huge heart and took so much interest in everyone around her and relationship and her natural world.”

Nudell moved to Hamilton in October to join her partner, Ben, and to further her career as an artist, Wells said.

An only child, the 33-year-old is survived by her father, David Nudell. Her mother died about six years, Wells said.

She said Nudell’s remains will be cremated in Hamilton and transported to Halifax for a Tuesday funeral service.

Intersection 'could be safer'

“It could be safer,” Brown said of the corner where Nudell was hit. “They could paint lines or add a flashing light.... They used to have signs for the crosswalk.” 

Around the Charlton to Wentworth curve, the speed limit is posed at 20 km, but many drivers whip around the corner, said both Brown and Howell-Townson. There are just two street lamps and a break in the trail, but no proper crosswalk.

At night, Brown said he jogs with someone. That’s what Howell-Townson does as well if jogging in the dark, especially on a trail.

When something like this happens to a runner, I don’t even know how to explain.—Cheryl Howell-Townson, The Runner's Den

She said Nudell was likely trying to be safe, noting that she was on the sidewalk and many runners like to jog on the road because asphalt is easier on the knees.

“I think a lot of us have had run-ins with cars,” she said. “Cars get a little annoyed with runners on the road.”

Around this time of year, it’s inevitable that joggers will be running in the dark, Brown said.

“Once daylight savings comes, you’re running in the dark,” he said.

It’s also the time of year Howell-Townson gives extra advice to her clients. The first piece: “Pay more attention to cars and when you go out in groups, jog in no more than two abreast or in single file.”

All the safety advice she can give won't eliminate the sting of the Nudell's death for the close-knit running community. 

“It’s tragic,” she said. “When something like this happens to a runner, I don’t even know how to explain.”


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