A Toronto runner who died within hours of pulling out of a Sunday race shortly after starting it was pursuing his "greatest dream," competing for Canada in the 2012 Olympics in London, his friend says.

"Danny was one of the friendliest [people] I've ever met," said Badhi Shoeri, who spent the evening with Danny Kassap after the 28-year-old pulled out of the 10-kilometre Toronto Sporting Life run Sunday. 

"Throughout the years, he just demonstrated to me what real friendship was. And despite all his talents, he was always incredibly humble and incredibly helpful to people," he told CBC's Metro Morning.

Danny Kassap, a fixture in the Toronto running community, pulled out of 10K race because he wasn't feeling well.  He was taken to hospital that night and died in the early hours of Monday. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

Kassap fled persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo 10 years ago and came to Canada to participate in the 2001 Francophone Games in Ottawa.

"His talent was just incredible," said Shoeri. "His life revolved around running, that's what he was really good at and that's what he loved. And for him to represent Canada at the Olympics was just his biggest dream."

'You can die by doing anything, not just running, so why should I stop running?' — Danny Kassap

Kassap won the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2004 in two hours 14 minutes 50 seconds in his first try at the distance. At the time, he was working in a fish and chip shop to pay the bills.

The five-foot-seven, 125-pound Kassap, who did not get Canadian citizenship until 2008 after an initial refugee claim was rejected, ran the distance three minutes faster than any Canadian.

Runner 'seemed fine' before death

Kassap told Shoeri before Sunday's race he thought he was coming down with a cold.

Kassap called Shoeri after he pulled out of the race Sunday. The two watched a movie together at Kassap's apartment that evening.

Kassap "seemed fine, he was laughing," said Shoeri.

Funeral expenses

Kassap's friends are trying to raise $20,000 to pay for a funeral and have started a website  where people can make donations.

He had minimal savings and his family is in the Congo and unable to contribute financially.

When Shoeri left at around 10 p.m. Kassap walked him to his car.

"We chatted a bit, I gave him a hug and I left. And then I got a call at 3 in the morning to rush to the hospital. And I went to Sunnybrook [Health Sciences Centre] and I found out that he had passed away," Shoeri said, his voice trembling.

The cause of his death is not immediately known, and an autopsy is expected to be performed Wednesday.

Kassap had a near-death experience three years ago when he ran in Berlin's marathon.

He was placed in a medically induced coma for several days and, upon returning to Canada, was diagnosed as having suffered a "ventricular fibrillation" brought on by an inflammation of the heart that was caused by a cold virus.

He took eight months off to recover, winning a five-kilometre race before running in a half-marathon almost one year to the day he collapsed.

"I was born to be an athlete, so I need to prove it. I'm not giving up," he said in a CBC interview months after he collapsed.

"At some points, people keep asking me  — you going to be scared when you're running? Of course, but we all here, we're going to end up dying. So, you're not going to avoid [it]. You can die by doing anything, not just running, so why should I stop running?… I'm going to run the same way I always run."

With files from The Canadian Press