The Night I Met Bo Johnson

The Night I Met Bo Johsnon

I was too late. Within a couple of weeks, he had passed. September 28th, 2012.

Have you ever met someone who completely transcends their age? Have you ever had a conversation with a child who is dying of cancer, yet has a better grasp and perspective on life than any adult you have ever met? Have you ever met anyone who has made it his/her life’s work to better other people’s lives…even though they themselves will no longer be alive within a few months?

Neither have I….because I never met Bo Johnson.

There are times in life when you just know you are supposed to do something. I felt this connection to Bo, but I had never even met him. Then I realized that everyone felt the same way I did. People from across the country had heard of Bo and his story. The entire Door County area was decked out in orange, supporting his fight with leukemia.

The integrity with which this young man lived his life was astounding to me.

I watched the public ceremony via the internet. I cried several times listening to his mother Annika tell stories about Bo. I cried watching his young classmates pay tribute to him via songs and stories. Like many cancer victims, Bo wanted people to celebrate his life and continue his motto of paying it forward. Always doing more for others, placing himself second.

I am not going to talk about the details of my failed attempt to run 100 miles at Door County. The significant factor of the run was the amount of attention and buzz we generated for Bo’s Foundation. Everyone was talking about Bo, and it was one of the most incredible days of my life.

During my trip to Door County, I met several people who knew Bo. First, I met Heather. She was Bo’s babysitter since he was five years old. She followed me throughout the night of the first 50 miles. Honestly, I felt like I had an Angel on my shoulder all night. Her selflessness and passion for Bo was unmistakable. She was real. She took care of me like I was one of Bo’s best friends.

Just before leaving at 9pm on my epic journey, Heather whispered to me, ‘Bo will make himself known. Something with the number 28will be significant. Trust me.’

As I made my way to Juddville – mile 80 for me, 28 on the course, I was completely cooked. My vision was blurry, I had thrown up multiple times, had diarrhea, and could not take in any calories. I entered the aid station and found Heather. The medic quickly sat down next to me and tried to get my pulse. It was faint at best. Blood pressure? Nope. That wasn’t reading either. I was severely dehydrated and in a bad way.

I started crying. I felt like a failure. I had let everyone down. Heather knelt down beside me and told me something I will never forget. ‘I told you Bo would make 28 special. You are at mile 28 on the course. He feels you have done enough for him. Bo would love you and what you did today.’

I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop shaking. I didn’t realize how much I was invested emotionally until that moment.  I had felt his strength all night – and now it was gone.

I had this feeling though, that he was sitting next to me, smiling. After running 80 miles through his backyard, I know I met him. He was running next to me for several miles through Sister Bay. I remember the moment. I was alone, about a mile from Johnson’s restaurant when I said out loud, ‘I am here for you brother. Give me some strength to continue this thing.’ – I was overcome with chills…and I started hammering. We were both smiling.

That is what I will remember for the rest of my life, the night I met Bo Johnson.

As I waited for my Dad to finish the 50, I had the honor of meeting Bo’s best friend. He looked up at me and I asked him how he was doing, to which he replied, ‘this week has been pretty tough.’ I shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure to meet him. I told him I was sorry to hear about Bo’s passing, and that I would be thinking about his friend quite a bit. Both of our eyes became glassy. I wanted to hug that boy and take away all his pain. I hope Bo’s words carry that young man through the tough times.

Thank you to everyone who helped me through the night. I will forever be grateful. Thank you to my wife who once again held down the fort at home while I was gone. I love you.



About bgruender

Father of 4. Endurance athlete. Co-founder Snowdrop Foundation Wisconsin
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12 Responses to The Night I Met Bo Johnson

  1. Incredible, Brian. You are amazing and have given back in ways I could never imagine. It’s an honor to call you friend. Keep inspiring, and I look forward to where your journey takes you in the coming years!

  2. adamlofquist says:

    Thanks for everything you do, thanks for your passion, love and spirit. Words cannot express the difference you have made.

  3. Jenn V. says:

    Amazing story….brought tears to my eyes. God bless you.

  4. Thank you, thank you for running for Bo, thank you for being an inspiration to so many and thank you for taking time away from your family who I know is number 1 in your heart. I look forward to meeting them all. 2 ears and 1 mouth….. You are amazing! Thank You!

  5. Paula Hedeen says:

    I want to write more but your words have left me “SPEECHLESS”… with tears flowing from an overwhelming love for your passion…GO BO! May your life be as blessed as ours in this community Bo called HOME. PROUD OF YOU BRIAN you ran the race with HEART and yes with a couple Angels…. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

  6. Bridget Browning says:

    Glad you got to meet Bo. Thanks for a wonderful story. yOLO!

  7. Susan Washington says:

    Very nice story Brian. You are an incredible man. Thank you for sharing.

  8. NANCY says:


  9. Pingback: The Night I Met Bo Johnson « 365 Days In The Life Of Christopher…

  10. michelle says:

    You rock….you triumphed….you should be immensely proud of yourself and your accomplishment! Go Bo! Bo sent you a hug at course mile 28…he didn’t want you to harm yourself further….take care of yourself and your family. We are all very proud of you. I never met Bo either, but feel I’ve known him all my life. He’s amazing that way.

  11. Sarah Basch says:

    Brian, you ran for Bo, who was an inspiration to so many. Now YOU are an inspiration to so many as well. So is awe of your strength and determination. Go Bo! ❤ Go Brian!

  12. Pingback: Bo Johnson: Teaching Us How To Live | Learning Chicago Learning Chicago Bo Johnson: Teaching Us How To Live | Learning Chicago | A new arrival digs beneath the city's surface…and other musings from a life lived backwards

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