Joy Johnson, so well known as an octogenarian distance runner that Al Roker annually chatted with her in the "Today" show crowd the day after the New York City Marathon, died one day after apparently suffering a head injury during Sunday's race. She was 86.
Marathon officials had announced earlier Monday that Johnson, a retired gym teacher and coach who took up running at 59, had been this year's oldest female finisher, covering the 26.2 miles in just under eight hours.
Only later did they learn that Johnson had fallen around the 20-mile mark in the Bronx, striking her head on the concrete, but had insisted on continuing with the race.
According to Diana Boydston, 54, Johnson's daughter, Johnson immediately was taken to a medical tent along the course after her fall. "They checked her out and she was coherent and seemed fine," Boydston said. "Very conversant. With my mom, if she thinks she's feeling well, she's going to keep going."
Boydston, speaking by phone from San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, said she was tracking her mother's race progress via computer and "didn't notice any breaks in her time." She wasn't aware Johnson had fallen until Monday morning.
Johnson, also from San Jose, was staying in a New York hotel with her sister, Faith Anderson. The two went Monday morning to their routine appearance in the "Today" show crowd, where Roker "liked to talk to her and admire her medal," Boydston said.
On the air, Roker mentioned Johnson's fall and asked if she was OK. "Oh, yeah," she said. "It looks worse than it really is. It's a scratch."
Boydston said her mother and aunt then "went back to the hotel and my mother wanted to take a nap, and my aunt couldn't wake her." Johnson was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, unresponsive, and died a short time later.
Marathon officials said Johnson had completed her 25th straight marathon, six times winning her age group (80-89).
"For years she taught, primarily phys ed, at the high school level," Boydston said of her mother, "and she coached track, volleyball, swimming. She always was very active, but she didn't run races until after she retired."
Johnson's husband, Dr. Newell Johnson, died in 1998.
Johnson completed her first marathon when she was 61, in 4 hours and 22 minutes. Her best marathon time was just under 4 hours. She told The Wall Street Journal five years ago that she was disappointed in her increasingly slower times, but had no intention to stop competing.
Before the 2008 New York City Marathon, Johnson told USA Today, "I want to keep running as long as I can and drop in my running shoes when the time comes."