Joy Johnson, named Joy because she was born on Christmas Day.
Credit: Rachael Levy, New York Daily News
Many of you may have heard this story, but it so inspirational that it bears repeating until everyone knows Joy Johnson. This past Sunday, at the age of 86, Ms. Johnson competed in her 25th consecutive New York City Marathon, which she completed in just under 8 hrs. This made her the oldest woman her age to ever complete the event. She fell and did a head-plant on the concrete at mile 20, but in spite of an injury to the right side of her head, refused treatment and continued on.
Ms. Johnson is from San Jose, CA, and is a retired high school gym teacher, where she also coached track, volleyball, and swimming. She did her first marathon at the age of 61, after retiring, and won the New York Marathon six times in her age group. Her best time was under four hours, but that still prompted her to lament to USA Today that she regretted that her marathon times kept getting slower. In this 2008 interview, she said, “I just want to keep running as long as I can, and drop in my running shoes when the time comes.” She said she was going to step up her exercise regimen so she remained more competitive, so every morning after a cup of coffee between 4:30 and 5 a.m., she began running up and down the bleachers at the local high school, running 8 miles, and finishing with 150 push-ups. This kept her fit for the eleven races and three marathons that she ran nearly every year.
It was her routine to make a celebritory visit to the Today Show the morning after the marathon, so this past Monday saw her visiting with Al Roker on the plaza while wearing two large bandages on her head and face. Hours after the Today Show visit, she told her daughter that she wasn’t feeling well, and was going back to the hotel for a nap. She never woke up.
While her family undoubtedly grieves her passing, her life and that of those like her deserve to be celebrated rather than grieved. Of the 50,000 people in this year’s marathon, there were 31 over the age of 80. While I don’t have his name, I remember reading about a canoeing instructor that still lead paddling classes at the age of 90. What amazed me at the time was that he still paddled from a kneeling stance. So, it seems the idea is not to celebrate life, but to celebrate living. As Norman Cousins stated, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live.” We just need to keep picking up that paddle and doing what makes us whole.