Directed by Gabe Spitzer
The story of Joy Johnson is pretty remarkable considering she is just another aging American woman with a story about her rather mundane life with a husband and children, and a job as a PE teacher. She lived what many would call an ordinary life filled with happiness, and likely some moments of sadness as well. But when most people’s exciting lives begin to wind down with retirement, Johnson read her Bible, laced up her shoelaces, and started to run. Finding inspiration from a Bible verse, which she read every morning before heading to the local high school track to run, Joy Johnson found purpose and direction in her retirement in the form of running.
Starting in 1988, when she was already 61 years old, Johnson began to run in the New York City Marathon, 26.2 miles, every single year for 25 years. Her last race was in 2013 when Joy was 86 years old. Johnson’s is no ordinary story, even though she very well may be just as ordinary as you and me. Her commitment to the joy of running over so many years, especially after having picked it up at such an older age, is admirable and inspiring. Johnson’s story is worth knowing, and worth hearing. However, the manner in which director Gabe Spitzer delivers her story in this brief, 12 minute documentary short, is somewhat questionable.
Not to spoil the ending of a real life story, I will proceed with caution, not truly knowing how to talk about what I disliked so much about a film about a person I in fact endear so much. As I said above, the film is brief, and takes the structure of a summary style documentary, necessary given the constraints of the short format. However, the problem the film faces in my eyes is that so few people are likely to know about Joy Johnson’s story beforehand (and despite my negative comments in this film’s review, I encourage everyone to at least seek out her incredible story). As such, the narrative device at play in this film is not only manipulative, but upon conclusion it is an awkward, ill-conceived gimmick, taking an otherwise great story and trying to ruin it.