PITTSBURGH - Kyle Johnson conquered a half-marathon in New York last year and set his sights on the same race in Pittsburgh.
Slightly more than a mile from the finish line in Pittsburgh on May 5, Johnson, 23, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead a short time later at UPMC Mercy from what pathologists said was “an inherited abnormality of the coronary artery system,” which supplies blood and oxygen to the heart muscles.
His family and friends are honoring him this year by training to finish the race he wanted to complete.
“We need to celebrate his life,” said Megan Prucnal, a longtime friend of Johnson's. “Obviously, we are still upset about it, and I'm sure emotions are going to be really high … but we need to finish it for him. We all keep laughing, thinking about how he'll be enjoying himself up there, seeing us struggle across the finish line.”
The group is training for the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Half-Marathon on May 4 and will run with customized bibs bearing the tag, “Run4Kyle.”
“When I first thought about his anniversary, I wanted to get out of Pittsburgh,” said Johnson's mother, Mary Beth Deal. “But when the idea of Run4Kyle came up and running in the marathon, it just felt right. Kyle would have wanted it.”
As word spread, someone set up an event on Facebook, leading hundreds to register for the race and use the hashtag #Run4Kyle when posting training updates and photos to social media sites.
“It kind of grew into its own monster,” Prucnal said. “It's kind of been this uniting measure with all of us, any time someone is doing something active, posting like, ‘I ran the lake this morning #Run4Kyle.'”
Johnson, a North Allegheny High School graduate who played football in high school, graduated with an accounting degree from Penn State University. He stayed active with sports and traveling.
He joined the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche in September 2012 as an auditor, moved to a Downtown apartment, and had just taken the first of four exams to become a Certified Public Accountant days before he died.
Employees of Deloitte & Touche are honoring Johnson's work and commitment with a plaque in the office.
Last year's race fell on Cinco de Mayo, and Johnson had planned a party with pancakes and margaritas at his apartment afterward. His family and friends intend to do that this year.
“The only thing that could have stopped him from completing that race was what happened, because he was really mentally tough,” said Alex Calder, Johnson's roommate and a childhood friend. “He probably would have completed it if he had a broken leg.”