With an easy smile, an athletic build and a distinctive blond coif, Dan Horyn was considered by some the hippest teacher at Niles North High School.
The 34-year-old English teacher and cross-country running coach whom co-workers said "had it all going on" lost a year-long battle early Monday morning when he succumbed to esophageal cancer.
"He was so much fun to be around and he had a great, dry sense of humor," said Bill Sullivan, 47, who started at the Skokie school the same time as Horyn and worked side by side with him in both English and cross country.
Horyn was diagnosed with stage four cancer on in August of last year, said his wife of seven years, Andrea Horyn.
Even after his diagnosis, Horyn kept teaching, Sullivan said.
"He loves coaching and teaching and kept doing it as long as he could," Sullivan said. "Talk about living on his own terms. He certainly did that."
Horyn was rushed to the ER last week, and doctors soon found blood clots in his lungs, his wife said. She said that though he asked in the ICU for more chemotherapy, his doctors recommended hospice in his Chicago home.
On Sunday, he watched the Chicago Bears football game, she said.
"At 3 a.m., he called out my name and I went over to him and he was grabbing in the air," Andrea Horyn said.
She remembered telling him: "'Just close your eyes, go to sleep, there's nothing to be afraid of. We will always be together.'"
The couple met 10 years ago in a popular Lakeview bar and had been "inseparable ever since," she said. They traveled the world together, biked and hiked, and opened a children's art studio, Bughouse Studio in Skokie.
And every day, she said, he ran.
Horyn ran seven marathons, three half-marathons and many other runs throughout his career, according to his wife, 30, an art teacher.
She said the two had planned to begin trying to have a child last year but instead found themselves managing his medical treatments.
She said his greatest gift was how he related to others.
"Dan is someone who connected with everyone," said Andrea Horyn. "There is just this great loss. He just touched everybody."
Emmett Barr, 18, a Skokie resident and 2013 Niles North graduate, was one of the many students Horyn inspired in his 12 years at the high school.
"He embodied passion like no other person I've ever met," said Barr, a freshman this year at Alleghany College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. "He had a passion for running, English, writing and love."
Barr and co-team captain Micah Beller, 18, a freshman at the University of Michigan, said Horyn was a role model and father figure.
"There was a time after his diagnosis I called him 'Dad' and I remember vividly, he turned and said, 'Son,'" Beller said. "It really showed the connection we had made the last four years. He got involved in all aspects of our lives, as athletes and as students."