Joy Johnson’s last marathon

Joy Johnson, 86, a Duluth native, ran her last marathon last weekend.

She loved the sport so much, the New York Post said, that her common refrain was “I want to die running.”

She almost did. She tripped and hit her head in the 20th mile of the New York Marathon on Sunday, refused treatment, finished the race, visited the Today Show on Monday, went back to the hotel and never woke up after she went to sleep.

(NBC Today Show)

“She did what she wanted,” her sister Faith Anderson, 83, of Norwood Young America, Minn., said.

This year, radio reporter Magee Hickey ran alongside her to interview her as she ran, and helped her across the finish line about eight hours after the race started.

Joy seemed a bit confused, but mumbled that she wanted to keep moving forward, she was worried about her time this year. She wanted to cross that finish line as soon as possible.

I told her I wasn’t worried about time because this was my first marathon and my goal was just to cross the finish line as part of the DetermiNation Team of the American Cancer Society. I told her I was raising money for cancer research because I am a cancer survivor and I had lost my wonderful mother to colon cancer.

I remembered thinking I am not sure she heard or understood everything I said. But as I crossed the finish line, I thought she could be my mother, who, had she lived as long, would have been 90 years old this year.

After we crossed the finish line, her helper said Joy needed to go have that bleeding cut on her forehead looked at. And she was whisked away.

But seconds before, I gave Joy a quick hug and told her I would never forget that I crossed the finish line with such a brave, incredible and determined person. I know I told her I hoped I could run a marathon when I am her age.

She became more of a celebrity marathoner last year after the Wall St. Journal profiled her.

She’ll reportedly be buried in Duluth.

  • Ma Barker

    Very inspiring. It reminds me of my Dad, who was 83 when he suffered a massive stroke, but came back physically enough to dig a 20 foot long trench that was 18 inches deep and about a foot wide so he could complete a yard project he had started before the stroke. At the time he was in a hospice program and knew his time was limited but this project was on his bucket list because he didn’t want my Mom to have to worry about hiring someone to finish it.

    I only hope I have half the energy and passion of Joy or my late father when I”m that age. As I said, inspiring.

  • KTFoley

    The best news about Joy will be no more news — nothing about the results of an autopsy, a head injury sustained on the race course resulting in death, or a pending lawsuit from survivors or insurance companies.

    Let’s hope that this piece can stay just as it is: a story of a woman who lived as she preferred and died as she would have wished.