Skip to main content

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

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
updated 6:38 AM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
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
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT