The Incredible Story of How a Grandfather Turned a Near-Death Experience into a Celebration of Life
Phoenix, Arizona - John Wilkie was determined to finish his eighth half marathon on Sunday, January 15, 2017. The 73-year-old grandfather of three had been running for 10 years and enjoyed the challenge and the health benefits of the sport.
But just 60 yards away from the finish line, his foot caught on the wheel of a spectator’s stroller, sending him tumbling to the ground. He hit his forehead and eye on the pavement, causing a deep cut and a lot of bleeding.
“I had thought about what I would do if this ever happened so I had it ingrained in my mind to tuck and roll,” Wilkie told PEOPLE. “I leaned to the left and put my arm down.”
Before he could get up, two men came to his rescue. One of them was Nathanael Dillard, a fellow runner who was also participating in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon. The other was Colin Jackson, a spectator who saw Wilkie fall.
“Two angels came out of the sky,” Wilkie said. “I didn’t bounce more than once before these two fellows helped me off the ground and across the finish line.”
Dillard and Jackson then escorted Wilkie to the EMT tent, where he was told he needed stitches. His wife, who is a nurse, took him to the hospital, where he received five stitches.
Wilkie didn’t get a chance to thank his “angels” at the time, but he later connected with Dillard through a local news station. They had a Skype call on Wednesday, where they exchanged gratitude and stories.
“He’s a navy veteran and he’s been running and does about 10 half marathons a year so he’s well aware of runners’ issues,” Wilkie said of Dillard. “I’m just very grateful that he was there.”
Wilkie also hopes to meet Jackson someday and thank him in person.
Wilkie said he is recovering well from his injury and plans to run more races this year. He also hopes to run with Dillard and Jackson again someday.
“We talked about maybe down the road being able to run another half marathon together,” he said. “I’ve made a couple friends for life, that’s for sure.”