Runner, 23, dies of cardiac arrest during Pittsburgh Half Marathon
Just before heading to the starting line for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on Sunday morning, Kyle Chase Johnson toasted his roommate, Alex Calder, with a glass of raw eggs.
“I woke up with him this morning at 6, and he was doing the ‘Rocky’ thing,” said Calder, Johnson’s former classmate and teammate from the North Allegheny High School football team. “He drank the whole glass of eggs, but he said it was a lot more difficult than he’d thought it was.”
“Breakfast of champions,” Kyle wrote in a tweet at 6:31 a.m., with a picture of the glass of globby yolks and the hashtag “#13.1” — the length of the half marathon.
Slightly more than a mile from the finish line and the Downtown apartment where he had planned to host friends and family for a post-race party, Johnson, 23, an employee of Deloitte & Touche and graduate of Penn State University, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest, authorities said. He was later declared dead in UPMC Mercy.
Johnson fell “right in front of our paramedics” at the 12-mile marker in Uptown, Dr. Ronald Roth, medical director of the marathon, said during a post-race briefing. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate him at the scene and continued to do so during a “30-second” ride to the hospital, but they were unsuccessful, Roth said.
“My wife and I were waiting by the overpass at Duquesne (University), just past mile 12. He never made it,” said Johnson’s father, Dan Johnson, 54, of Franklin Park. “He’d been planning to have a party for everyone at his apartment after the race. He’d gone out (last) week to get ingredients for pancakes so he could make everyone breakfast.”
All signs had pointed to a life of great potential for Johnson. He joined Deloitte in September as an auditor, had moved to the Downtown apartment with Calder 10 days ago and had just taken the first of four exams to become a certified public accountant, his father said.
“He was articulate, bright, handsome, and was going to be very successful,” said Bryan Deal, Johnson’s stepfather, who’d had dinner with him the night before the race. In addition to his father, stepmother Mary Frances, stepfather and mother, Mary Beth, Johnson had a younger brother, Seth.
“I really thought he was going to go on and do great things for the city of Pittsburgh,” Calder said. “He was a guy with great integrity. He was a loyal friend. He was probably the first person I’d call if I needed anything, and I can tell you I’m not the only person who’d say that.”
Johnson had recently run a half marathon in New York City, and he hadn’t experienced any health problems before, his father said. Calder said Johnson was running three to four times a week to train for the race. He had been running for the past couple of years, ate right and did yoga every morning.
“He was a great kid, an overachiever,” said Art Walker, Johnson’s former coach at North Allegheny, who had last seen him at the April memorial service for Marek Lapinski, a teammate who died in late March while undergoing dental surgery.
“This is unbelievable,” Walker said. “There’s always that thing in the back of my mind that I hope I’m wrong, that it’s not true.”
Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams said his office will perform an autopsy on Monday. Johnson’s cause of death could be known as early as Monday if something fairly clear, such as a structural heart defect, is found. Investigators are treating the death as natural, Williams said.
It was the first time someone has died along the marathon or half marathon course since the race was revived in 2009, Roth said.