Running for Johanna

By Enrique Lopetegui

[email protected]

Johanna Sigmund, 6/21/76-9/11/01

John Sigmund works at SAY Sí with my wife since early 2009.

His position, Coordinator of College & Career Programs, means exactly that: He helps students apply and plan their future in college after they graduate from SAY Sí.

He's also a Real Madrid fanatic, but he left predilections aside and bought my daughter a custom-made Barcelona outfit (complete with her name and a # 1 in the back), which is like being a Yankee fan and buying someone a Red Sox hat. That's how cool he is.

But I had no idea there was something else about him, and he revealed it with a letter I want to share.

I could have just shared the key information with the reader, but I believe this is a letter meant to be read in its entirety.

Dear Family & Friends,

It has been eight years since we lost my sister Johanna during the horrific events of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Johanna was only 25 years old, yet in her relatively short time on this earth, she accomplished so much and made an indelible impression on the people who were fortunate enough to know her. She had an infectious smile, a loving spirit, a generous heart, and a true appreciation for the good things in life. Most importantly, she deeply loved her family and friends. Among her many passions, Johanna was a dedicated athlete. In the last year of her life, she made my parents and I proud when she ran the New York City Marathon. She looked radiant and invigorated during the race, stopping for photos with my Dad and even dancing and drinking at the bar that night. In 2001, Johanna didn't earn a spot in the NYC marathon and planned running the Philly marathon in November instead. She was excited to run in front of a hometown crowd and my family planned on cheering her on. Obviously, these plans, like so many others, were tragically destroyed by the events of September 11.

In November 2001, just two months after her death, my family and I decided to carry on with Johanna's unfulfilled goal and run the Philadelphia Marathon in her honor. We were not in great shape, so we did a “relay for Johanna” with 13 family members and friends each running a two-mile leg of the marathon. We each took turns wearing her actual number bib and we symbolically passed on one of her running sneakers like a baton. It was an incredible, healing event and we all felt that we had carried on her amazing legacy of athleticism and perseverance. At the time, I vowed that I would one day run the full marathon on my own in her honor. That day is soon approaching. Although it has taken me eight long years to build up the courage (and to quit the cigarettes!), I'm finally going to run the Philadelphia Marathon for Johanna in less than two weeks on November 22. I am writing you to ask for your financial support for this cause.

Since Johanna and I were children, our family has regularly attended Mass at St. Malachy's Church, an inner-city parish located in North Philadelphia, surrounded by a cluster of public housing units. We were drawn to the parish because of the diverse community devoted to peace and justice. We also formed a close relationship with the parish priest, Father John McNamee. After Johanna died, we decided to start a scholarship in her name at the cash-strapped school that is connected to St. Malachys. The Johanna Sigmund Memorial Fund supports the mission and operations of St. Malachy's Elementary School.

Finally, I have to mention that I would have never found the encouragement to run and fundraise for the marathon if it were not for the amazing efforts of the Pickens family, our next-door neighbors in Philly, who have founded a group called “Run for Johanna.” It started in 2004 when the oldest Pickens daughter, Nora, raised a large amount of money and ran the NYC Marathon in Johanna's memory. A year later, her younger sister Mollie did the same thing and the next year, Mr. Pickens surprised his children and also ran the marathon, raising a huge amount of money. Dan has been an enthusiastic leader and an unstoppable organizational force for this event. He has garnered the support of donors, handed out thousands of donation envelopes door-to-door in our neighborhood, and he recently helped create a website to promote the Run for Johanna. He has also invited others to join the run. This year, there are nearly 20 runners participating in either the NYC or the Philly Marathon to raise money for Johanna's scholarship.

In less than two weeks, I'm returning to Philly from Texas to run the marathon. Although I'm not in perfect shape (the tacos in San Antonio are too damn good!), I just completed an 18 miler yesterday so I'm almost there. Please pledge your support to this cause by visiting the website Click on “Support Us” or “Donate” to make a secure donation using Paypal. Any amount, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated. When using Paypal, mention my name in the “Add special instructions to seller” box so I have an idea of how much I have raised. Also, you will receive an email confirmation for your donation with message “Receipt for your donation to Dan Pickens” because Dan (our neighbor) is the donations coordinator.

Please help me honor my sister's spirit by making a donation to this cause.

Thank you for your support!

With love & gratitude,

John Sigmund

PS: A short article about Johanna from NY Times'"Portraits of Grief":

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