Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Celebration of Life: Sierra Janine Hightower

Standing in my living room in October 2007, I asked Janine Hightower if she really thought I could get a little stronger despite not being able to pass the initial fitness assessment she gave me the week before. In a soft yet strong voice with her soulful eyes meeting mine she said the above Henry Ford quote.

She went on to say "Let's see what this body can do." At the age of 29 years old, she was a wise soul.

In February, I passed the fitness assessment and had reached my initial goals, one of which was to get off of a low seat without assistance. She asked me to set new goals. "Well I want to feel free in my body. I want to dance again. {I took ballet before I contracted paralytic polio at age 5.} I want to walk outside without my leg brace. I want to diversify my workouts." Janine wrote down my new fitness goals and after she gathered up her things and had her hand on the door knob I said, "Wait! I have one more goal." "What's that?" she asked. "I want to run the 2009 Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab. They have a Race for Rehab Team." I had never run a day in my life but had written a poem about "Running the Race" in February of that year.

To this day I have no idea why she said, totally nonplussed, "Well you're going to need a pair of running shoes aren't you?" 

This is the shoe I was wearing with a toe up leg brace:

The rest as they say is history:

Janine waited patiently for us to get to Heartbreak Hill so she could run into the finish line with us. I kept apologizing to her for having to wait so long for us. I shared with her that I was concerned about not being able to finish if I went any faster given the rapidly changing weather conditions. She told me that the person who won the 2008 marathon had to be taken to the hospital and was a did not finish. She was glad I was pacing myself. As we made our way to the finish line, she reminded us to take it one step at a time. "You've got this!"

When we were about to cross the finish line, she stepped to the side saying, "This is all yours. I can't cross with you." 

Here are moments captured from the day by a BU photojournalism Masters student. His final assignment was to follow a runner on Marathon Monday. When he asked Marathon Sports if they could recommend anyone, they suggested Team McManus!

Coming through Cleveland Circle, Janine is waving to our son Autumn McManus.

Coming down Commonwealth Avenue

Close to taking that right on Hereford and Left on Boylston after coming out of the tunnel on Commonwealth Avenue. Janine suggested we let out a yell while going through the tunnel to hear the echo!

Coming down Boylston Street

That iconic moment when Janine refused to cross the finish line with us!

Love and pride radiated through every fiber of Janine's being at this moment. That's our son Autumn who walked in with us from Cleveland Circle.

Raw emotion expressed after crossing the finish line as Janine smiled and gave thanks to God for what we were able to accomplish defying the diagnosis of a progressive neuromuscular disease and setting a goal that most would say was impossible. From start to finish, Janine supported us, trained us and held faith that we would be able to cross that finish line.

I clearly remember walking back from the finish line to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for the post-race celebration with Spaulding Rehab. Janine kept checking in with me making sure that I was okay telling me that she never once doubted we would be able to do this. I told her I carried 11 cents that I found on my last training run in the back pocket of my capris and that I found a penny in Wellesley at the halfway mark. I felt God's presence with us throughout the journey.

On February 21, 2022, Janine crossed the finish line of her earthly marathon. I received an email from someone I didn't know on LinkedIn on Sunday night:

I know Janine was fond of you - I have been friends with her for many years, and so I was looking to find you and to tell you that she tragically has passed away.  There is a memorial service by zoom and in-person in Maine this Thursday at 11.  I can send you the details if you would like. There is also memorial fundraising for her family's expenses.  I am so sorry to have to give you this terrible news.  She was a very bright light!

I was shocked and devastated to think that we would never have that reunion to celebrate healing and life. We planned a reunion but then COVID happened. Somehow our schedules never synced up to do a Zoom call.  She was indeed a very bright light. We had lost touch when she moved to Miami but reconnected when she returned to Boston to earn her Masters Degree in Public Health. I've learned that life is never too busy to make time for the people who matter most. My heart and head are buzzing with so many memories with her and trying to process the reality that we will never meet again in this lifetime. 

One day while out on a run she asked me if I ever heard of Wilma Rudolph. When I said I had not she told me to google her as soon as I got home. Wilma Rudolph became a great source of inspiration for me on the road to Boston and beyond.

I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without Janine. There would be no adventures for runnergirl 1953 if she would not have said yes to my crazy dream of running the Boston Marathon. We have been able to inspire so many others with what's possible despite all appearances to the contrary harnessing the powerful mind/body connection and faith in God.

Her Spirit and legacy of love live on through all who were blessed to know Sierra Janine Hightower. Rest in peace my dear friend and fly with the angels. Our journey together is chronicled in my Trilogy of Transformation available on Amazon for all to read and be in awe of how one woman's faith ignited hope, healing and possibilities in another and together they did the impossible.

From my heart to yours,

In health and wellness,


Be sure to visit my website at https://marymcmanus.com to learn about my journey to health and wellness in the wake of paralytic polio and trauma

Visit the News and Events tab to listen to my inspiring and uplifting interviews

My books to motivate, uplift and inspire you are available on Amazon



  1. That was beautiful. Thank you for telling your (and her) story!

    1. Thank you Sonia for letting me know what happened and for this opportunity to pay tribute to an amazing woman.

  2. Janine impacted so many lives. Thank you for sharing this. She was amazing and as it seems so are you ♥️

    1. Thank you for your kind words Tracy. I feel so blessed and grateful to be able to share these memories and pray that we may all bring comfort and healing to one another.


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