A man pays tribute to his late mother during the Boston Marathon

CATLETTSBURG, Ky. (WSAZ) – The Boston Marathon returned this year, drawing thousands of runners to the area.

Among the 30,000 runners was Neil Johnson of Catlettsburg.

Everyone runs the Boston Marathon for a different reason.

For Johnson, it started in 2013 after the Boston Marathon radio bombing.

Johnson said his heart broke because he loved Boston’s sports teams, the city and the atmosphere the marathon brought to the area.

He then swore to himself that one day he would run the marathon.

So he started training and participating in different races in the area.

Johnson and his mother, Sally, ran several races together.

“We raced together to prove to each other that we still had it. She was my hero, Johnson said.

Johnson hit the streets of Catlettsburg to begin training for the Boston Marathon in January 2022.

Johnson and his mother dreamed of running the race together.

However, Sally died of stage four liver cancer before the pair could race together.

“Sometimes people don’t understand what your body gives. The pounding, the mileage, and the love every time you think about it. During this moment, it is like giving life to someone else for this moment.

Framed on the start line, elbow to elbow, Johnson says the feeling at the start line was indescribable.

“It was electric. It was ecstatic. It was the experience of a lifetime,” Johnson said. “My mom and dad had the best seats in the house.”

For 26.2 miles, Johnson honored her mother every step of the way.

“There’s a thing called Heartbreak Hill at mile marker 19. It crushes even the top pros’ minds if you don’t launch properly. But my vertigo slowed me down and prepared me for the perfect launch. I didn’t even feel grief because the only grief I had was my mother’s.

And as he crossed the finish line, Sally was there in spirit.

“I untwisted my cross around my neck which carried my mother’s ashes. I dropped them in the air. I let her know, hey, mom, you’re here with me, Johnson said.

Johnson felt it was appropriate to run the marathon this year in Sally’s honor because her favorite color was purple. Every year, the Celebration jacket changes color. This year it was purple.

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