Running for Émilie
Émilie Mondor had characteristics shared by many elite athletes. She was confident. Intense. Relentless in her pursuit of winning.
That focus and talent led Mondor to many achievements, including being the first Canadian woman ever to run a sub-15:00 minute 5K, and earning a spot on Team Canada at the 2004 Olympic Games, where she finished 17th in the 5000 metres.
For those that knew her, her death at the age of 25 is made all the more tragic because they know the athletic heights she could have reached.
Mondor’s spirit is remembered every year across Canada – from her hometown of Mascouche, Quebec, where they run the Classique Emilie Mondor every October to her alma mater Simon Fraser University, which hosts the Emilie Mondor Invitational Track Meet each spring.
And in Ottawa, where she was living when she was killed in a car accident in 2006, her name lives on in the form of Émilie’s Run, now known as Run to Empower.
The race, which was originally called the RunnersWeb 5K for Women Only, was started by local running coach Ken Parker in 2005 as a race where women could compete, win and set the leading times.
“At that time, there weren’t many races out there specifically for women,” he said. “Women were participating more and more in races, but even elite competitors were finishing behind the men.”
It was when Parker was recruiting elite athletes for the race that he first crossed paths with Mondor, at a press conference for the 2006 Ottawa Race Weekend.
“I told her about the race and the reasoning behind it and she stopped me to say she’d do it,” he said. “She was a big proponent of women’s fitness and getting more women involved with running.”
The next month, on race day, Parker noticed Mondor limping near the starting line. It was an Achilles tendon injury. She didn’t want to let Parker down and was prepared to run through the pain, but he wouldn’t have it. Mondor agreed to not race that day and promised to run it next year.
Not long after the race, Mondor had her own question for Parker: if she moved to Ottawa, would he help her train to compete in the marathon? She had been considering switching from the track to the road, and her correspondence with Parker had convinced her that he was the right coach to help her do it.
Not long after, Mondor moved to Gatineau and started training with Parker.
“We had a mile-loop in Rockcliffe Park that we used to go to a lot,” Parker recalls. “She’d run her mile loop in sub-5:30 and then run backwards to cheer on the other runners.”
Mondor also began making plans to race at longer distances. She registered to make her marathon debut at the 2006 NYC marathon in the elite women field, even though she hadn’t even run a half-marathon at that point.
“She wanted to wring every last ounce out of what her body could give,” Parker said. “She had this confidence that even if she wasn’t going to be the best runner in the race, she wasn’t going to make it easy for them to beat her.”
Then, on September 9th 2006, after completing a 2-hour training run with Parker, Mondor left to drive up to Mascouche for a high school reunion. On the drive, she lost control of her car and crashed. She was airlifted to Ottawa’s Civic Hospital where she passed away without regaining consciousness.
“As the news started to come in online, I couldn’t believe it,” Parker said. “To see her, and train with her only a couple hours before, it was and is still difficult to deal with.”
Mondor was honoured at the 2006 NYC Marathon, where many runners wore black ribbons in her memory, and the following summer Parker renamed the RunnersWeb 5K for Women to Émilie’s Run.
Just like when it started ten years ago, Émilie’s Run continues to be a draw for elite runners, like New Zealand’s Mary Davies and Kenya’s Lucy Njeri Macharia. Canadian Rachel Hannah is the reigning two-time winner of the race, and also set the course record of 15:57.5 in 2014.
Starting in 2016, Run Ottawa will be helping organize the race and for Parker, he said he’s confident that it will continue to carry Émilie’s memory forward.
“I’m happy that the race will keep going past my time and keep Émilie’s spirit in our memories,” he said.
For more information on the history of the event and to register, visit the race page.