Johanna Olson, 3/18/79-1/3/2013
“Truly, I love running. It’s who I am. It’s a part of me. Even if I can only run for 10 minutes, I feel whole and happy. And if everything else is falling to pieces, I go for a run and I feel like things are going to be okay.” – Johanna Olson
Johanna Olson was a 15-year cancer survivor and an accomplished runner. After finishing a remarkable high school running career at Wadena Deer Creek High School (Wadena, MN), Johanna was excited continue her love for running and education at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Johanna had a strong start to her collegiate running career, placing second at the conference cross country meet as a freshman when she started having severe headaches and vision problems. She was gearing up for regionals and was looking forward to qualifying for nationals when she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. She had her first brain surgery in November 1997. Even brain surgery couldn’t keep Johanna from running for long. She was back at Luther in January for school and track. She missed the next cross country season because of radiation, yet once again she was back on the track in January. Johanna had an amazing running career and her senior year she won cross country nationals on the third anniversary of her first brain surgery. She was more proud of her team’s third place finish than her own national championship because she cared so much about her team. After college, Johanna moved out West to train (and work) and became a two-time Olympic marathon trials qualifier.
Johanna was always so much more than the “girl with the brain tumor”. She never gave up hope and her “don’t quit” attitude was inspiring. She was always willing to share her story if she felt it would help others, especially for other young athletes battling cancer, and without even realizing it she brought a lot of awareness to the disease. Johanna’s love for running, family, friends and community was evident in all that she did. She loved coaching and teaching and she really loved living out West where she could run in the mountains. When her tumor came back in 2009 Johanna moved back to MN for surgery, chemo, and to be close to her family. During chemo she continued to work and coach. She was thrilled to get a full time job at COCC and move to Bend in 2010. Bend was a dream location for Johanna. She loved all of the running and other adventurous opportunities Bend had to offer and she made amazing friends and found a wonderfully supportive community. Through her work at COCC she was connected to the DEFEAT Cancer group. When her tumor came back again in 2011 and she was no longer able to drive and eventually wasn’t able to work it was her “Bend family” that made it possible for her to continue to live indepently by giving her rides to doctor appointments, running with her, supporting her, and in Gary Bonacker (TdC Founder) she found a “brain tumor mentor”.
Johanna believed in living life to the fullest and sharing her gifts. One of her favorite quotes was “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” This quote embodied how Johanna lived her life. Johanna loved to share her passion for runing and life. She connected with, and inspired, many people in her roles as coach, teacher, friend and mentor. Promoting physical activity was hugely important to Johanna and she was encouraging and supportive whether you were walking 10 minutes a day or running ultra marathons. Johanna was a runner and a fighter, battling brain cancer for more than 15 years. One of the most inspirational moments of Johanna’s life was her completion of the 2012 Twin Cities Marathon with “Team Joha”, just three months before she died from brain cancer. She needed a goal to get through the chemo and avastin treatments and even though she felt terrible, it was running that gave her joy, so training for a marathon was just what she needed to stay positive and happy. She was truly amazing. Johanna is missed but her memory and inspiration live on in the lives and running of so many.
-Marney Olson (Johanna’s Sister)