Family members and friends say Joy Johnson wanted to keep running until she died. And her sister says Johnson died happily this week, the day after the 86-year-old became the oldest person to finish the New York City Marathon.
The Star Tribune reports a funeral will be held in her hometown of Waconia. The newspaper says Johnson was later a gym teacher in Duluth, before moving to northern California.
Sunday's race was her 25th straight New York City Marathon. As NBC reports, Johnson stumbled and fell at about mile 20, finished the race with a bandage on her head, and declined hospital treatment. The next morning she kept her tradition of visiting briefly with the Today show's Al Roker. She died in her sleep at her hotel that afternoon, Today says.
Her sister, 83-year-old Faith Anderson of Norwood Young America, accompanied Johnson to New York and told the New York Post: “She did what she wanted. She said 'If I can die running I’ll die happy.'” Anderson also tells the paper Johnson finished more than 70 marathons around the country but never ran on Sunday, which was reserved for church.
According to the Star Tribune, Johnson had run in Grandma's Marathon in Duluth as recently as 2011 and regularly took part in the January running of the Securian Frozen Half Marathon.
Johnson was an inspiration to many. Her daughter, Diana Boydston, told the San Jose Mercury News she's been fielding calls from well-wishers all over the country.
Boydston told Today: “I think she would be happy with this chain of events: to run her beloved New York marathon, talk to her buddy Al, be there with her sister Faith. She told everyone she loved them before the race, and she was at peace.”