Friends and family mourn 26-year-old Mass. man who collapsed during Santa Rosa Marathon

Local News

Sam Norton took up running in honor of his father, who died from substance use disorder, and raised thousands for addiction recovery.

Loved ones of Massachusetts-born Sam Norton are mourning his unexpected death after he collapsed earlier this week during the Santa Rosa Marathon. The news has prompted an outpouring of fond memories from family and friends, who remember Norton as a hard worker with a big heart.

The 26-year-old runner collapsed during Sunday’s race just before the 23rd mile marker, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. He was taken to a local hospital and later pronounced dead. Norton was running in Santa Rosa to qualify for the 2024 Boston Marathon.

“He was doing something that he loved,” his mother, Kristen Caisse, told the Press Democrat.

Norton took up distance running as a way of honoring the memory of his father, who loved to run and battled addiction before his death in 2020. In a 2022 blog post, Norton explained how running offered him solace as he was grieving.

“There’s a unique and distinct clarity that comes when you’re miles out, just you and the road, when you settle in and feel like you could go on just like this, forever,” he wrote. “I like to think that it was moments like these that brought him some peace and relief from the anguish that was all too present for him. It’s the closest I’ve felt to him in years, even when he was alive.”

In that post, Norton announced he’d be running the 2023 Boston Marathon with the Herren Project, an addiction prevention and recovery nonprofit. He surpassed his fundraising goal, raising more than $16,000.

Norton collapsed during the Boston Marathon around mile 14, and wasn’t able to finish the race. But he wrote in another blog post that he was determined to try again.

“Rather than leaving Boston feeling disappointed with how the race had gone for me personally, I felt a renewed drive to advance the mission of the Herren Project,” Norton wrote, pledging to race in the New York City Marathon and again fundraise for the nonprofit.

According to the Press Democrat, Norton was hospitalized and diagnosed with a rare muscle condition after his first collapse but was soon cleared to return to running.

On a GoFundMe page set up on behalf of Norton’s mother and sisters, his friend Sam Rogers of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, remembered Norton as loving and determined.

“Sam always made the impossible seem possible,” Rogers wrote. “He was a three-year varsity football player at Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury and was a strong leader even before he was named a team captain. Aside from his accomplishments on the field, Sam was a terrific and dedicated student – so much so that he locked himself in his bedroom on a Saturday to study for a final exam freshman year.”

“Everyone looked up to Sam; being around Sam made us stand a little taller and work a little harder,” Rogers continued. “He was a hero to so many – a friend and family member who stayed in touch. Checked in. Cared. Inspired us all.”

“Sam Norton was more than an athlete; he was a community builder,” the Herren Project wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Known for his magnetic energy and ability to bring people together, he was a cherished presence among fellow runners.”