World & Nation

California woman, 86, dies after marathon finish: ‘What a way to go’

Joy Johnson
Joy Johnson, 86, on her way to the finish line.
(The New York City Marathon)

Joy Johnson, 86, put faith and family first. But after that? Life was all about running.

The San Jose woman died Monday, one day after she fell and hit her head but still managed to complete the New York City Marathon -- the 25th consecutive time she had run that particular race. Just hours before her death, she was interviewed and congratulated by the “Today” show’s Al Roker.

“It was just the way she wanted to go,” her daughter, Diana Boydston, also of San Jose, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “She always said she wanted to go out running.”

As she described her mother’s final hours, Boydston struggled to maintain her composure. Johnson, who was the oldest woman in Sunday’s race, was well on her way when she fell around Mile 20. Emergency workers swooped in for assistance and bandaged her up. Johnson was urged to go to the hospital, but refused.


After all, she had a finish line to reach.

“That’s just the way she was,” Boydston said. “If she started, she was going to finish.

The next morning, Johnson and her sister arrived on the street outside the “Today” show bright and early and braved the cold for what had become one of Johnson’s favorite post-race traditions: Chatting with Roker and showing off her finisher’s medal.

Later that morning, Johnson and her sister returned to their hotel room to rest and relax. Johnson said she was tired and lay down for a nap.


“She never woke up,” Boydston said, her voice quavering. It is suspected that Johnson suffered internal bleeding after the fall. 

Now, this is the point where we start talking about lawsuits, right? Who was to blame, and why didn’t the marathon workers insist on taking Johnson to the hosp...

There will be no such talk, Boydston said.

She explained: Her mother, who had led an active life and had been a physical education teacher, took up running late in life and threw herself into marathons after retirement.

Johnson averaged three races a year, and her best time was 3:55:30. She slowed down with age. (Sunday’s race took her nearly eight hours.) But the training, and the traveling to and from different races proved to be a wonderful distraction after Johnson’s husband died several years ago.

Boydston said she has nothing but praise for the New York City Marathon and everyone who helped her mother on race day.

“Joy is up in heaven with her husband,” Boydston said. “She would come down from heaven and smite me if I even said the word ‘lawsuit.’ That was not her style. There’s no blame. She went the way she wanted to.”

Boydston added: “She was doing what she loved: She had finished the race, she talked to Al Roker, he admired her finisher’s medal. What a way to go at 86.”



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