Skip to main content

Oldest woman in New York City Marathon dies hours after crossing finish line

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
The start of the ING New York City Marathon on November 3, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
The start of the ING New York City Marathon on November 3, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This is the way she wanted to go," says the daughter of 86-year-old Joy Johnson
  • Sunday was her 25th appearance in the 26-mile New York Marathon
  • Johnson fell about six miles from the end race, but she kept going to finish
  • She appeared Monday on the "Today" show and was resting in her hotel when she died

New York (CNN) -- The oldest female contestant in the 2013 ING New York City Marathon died just hours after completing her 25th consecutive appearance at the race, her daughter says.

Eighty-six-year-old California resident Joy Johnson completed Sunday's race in just under eight hours. The following afternoon she was resting in her New York City hotel room and never woke up, her daughter Donna Graffis told CNN.

READ: New York City Marathon returns -- with revamped security

Around mile 20 of the 26.2-mile marathon, at close to 5 p.m., Johnson fell and hit her head, Graffis said. She was brought to the first aid tent, where responders suggested that she go to the hospital.

Graffis said that her mother -- who was able to speak coherently and with a clear head -- continued on, more determined than ever to finish the run.

Marathon dream interrupted by Sandy

Johnson finished with a time of 07:57:41, according to Chris Weiller, a spokesman for the New York Road Runners, the organization that puts on the marathon.

The following morning she ventured to NBC's "Today Show" with her sister, Faith Anderson, to talk to Al Roker, whom she called "her buddy" after more than a decade of yearly appearances on the show.

After her visit to the Rockefeller Center, Johnson headed back to the Roosevelt Hotel to rest. Around 3 p.m., her sister was not able to wake her up.

It is unclear what the exact cause of death was.

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.

"We are going to miss her and she was an inspiration," Weiller said. "For 25 years she has been lining up and finishing, and in 2014 it won't be the same without her."

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."

At home, Johnson ran with what she called the "Willow Glen Track Pack," her daughter said. The group is named after the neighborhood she lived in in San Jose, California.

She liked to jokingly call the other octogenarians in her age group "whipper-snappers."

Graffis said that Johnson loved running, her family and her faith.

"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 said. "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."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2131 GMT (0531 HKT)
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2126 GMT (0526 HKT)
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT