Joy Johnson was the oldest woman to run in the New York City Marathon on Sunday. The 86-year-old from California crossed the finish line under the eight-hour mark, but unfortunately, it would be her last marathon. Johnson passed away only one day after she finished the 26.2-mile race.
When she reached the 20th mile, Johnson fell and hit her head, but was still able to complete the race. Diana Boydston, one of Johnson’s daughters, told NBC that her mother held her annual interview with Al Roker from the Today Show before she collapsed and was brought to Bellevue Hospital Center in New York.
“At least she got one last time,” Boydston said. “That was more important to her than the marathon, showing off her medal to Al Roker."
Donna Graffis, Johnson’s other daughter, said she was resting in her New York City hotel room on Monday afternoon, but never woke up. The exact cause of death is still unspecified.
Though 2013 was not her best time, and nearly three hours more than the first time she ran the race in 1988 with a time of 4:22:59, she was very happy to have finished, Graffis says.
She was one of 18 octogenarians in this year's race, and one of only four women in that age group, according to Weiller. Johnson was also the oldest female in the 2011 marathon, and won her age group a total of six times over the past quarter century.
Johnson, who was born in Minnesota, moved in her 20s to California, where she became a physical education teacher and track and volleyball coach, Graffis said. It was not until after retiring in her mid-50s that she picked up distance running. Graffis called her mother "an inspiration to everyone that you can start something at that point in your life."
According to the New York Daily News, this was Johnson’s 25th go-around in the marathon. Her family, friends, and fellow runners explained they were saddened to hear the news of her passing, but found solace in the fact that she died doing what she loves.
"We're all stunned and sad but in a way, when you talk to a lot of people who knew her, this is the way she wanted to go," Graffis told CNN. "A little bit of us is smiling, because we know she is very happy. The only thing is, she would have liked to keep running, pass her running shoes on."