New York Daily News article

He runs, flies with heavy heart

Last night in his midtown hotel room, John Henwood pulled out his portable massage table, and went to work. He spent two hours doing deep-tissue massage on a pair of fellow marathoners, and plans to work on two more today.
Then he will start saving his energy reserves for himself, for Sunday, when he takes his grief to the starting line of the New York City Marathon – a race he pulled out of just two weeks ago.

There are 37,000 stories in this year’s marathon. None is quite like that of Henwood, a 33-year-old New Yorker by way of New Zealand.

“The marathon is all about enduring – and John is the ultimate example of that,” said David Monti, elite-athlete coordinator for the marathon.

At 6-5, 157 pounds, Henwood, a 2004 Olympian in the 10,000 meters for New Zealand, is the world’s tallest elite marathoner. His twin professions are running and massage therapy. He was thinking of neither two weeks ago when he got a call from home, saying that his mother, Leonie, had taken a sudden turn for the worse in her battle with lung cancer.

Henwood’s plan was to return home on Nov.7, the day after the race, but now he knew he couldn’t wait. He E-mailed Monti and told him he needed to withdraw from the race. Two days later, Oct.22, Henwood got on a plane for the 22-hour trip home.

During a layover in Los Angeles, he called home. His father, John, answered. The son learned that his mother had died while he was in the air. He cried in the terminal, alone with thousands of strangers.

“She knew I was coming home to see her, so at least that was a huge relief,” Henwood said.

When he finally arrived in New Zealand, Henwood went to see his mother. She was in the funeral home.

“She looked great,” he said. He talked to her for 15 minutes. He delivered her eulogy at the funeral a few days later, reading a letter she had written to her three children. “It wasn’t easy to get through,” Henwood said.

His father convinced him to go back to New York, to run the race. “He said that’s what Mum would’ve wanted,” Henwood said. He contacted Monti to see if he could get back in.

“Absolutely,” Monti said.

Henwood, who competes for the New York Athletic Club, ran a 2:17 in his marathon debut earlier this year. He has run an impressive 27:45 in the 10,000 meters, and believes he can cross in 2:13 or 2:14 Sunday. He knows he will not be alone.

“I’ll be thinking of Mum while I’m running, as she’s looking down from upstairs,” Henwood said.

Originally published on November 2, 2005