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South Salt Lake Journal

UPS employee walks/bikes to support friend with cancer

Oct 05, 2021 09:23AM ● By Bill Hardesty

Mary Johnson (left) is walking/biking 1,700 miles to support her friend, Soni (right), who has cancer. (Courtesy of UPS)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Mary Johnson, a resident of Sugar House and a UPS employee, is walking/biking 1,700 miles before her friend, Soni, completes chemotherapy.

Why 1,700 miles? Because that is the distance between Johnson and Soni, who lives in Kentucky. Johnson has completed about 600 miles. So, on a map, Johnson is between Denver and Kansas City.

"My goal is to finish close to when she finishes her treatment, and she is halfway through. So, I need to ramp it up," Johnson said.

Her Fitbit tracks her progress.

Friends for life

Johnson was raised in Kentucky and attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. While attending school, Johnson worked at a Holiday Inn. She met Soni at work. They became close friends at the time.

"As things moved on, we got married and had kids. I moved. We got separated," Johnson said.

Through Facebook, they reconnected several years ago, and in 2019, they got together face to face—the first time in more than 20 years.

"It's one of those friendships where even though time and distance separated us, when we reconnected we just picked up where we left off," Johnson said. "We didn't fill that gap of time.

"Soni is just a phenomenal lady who's raised two kids. She has a child with autism who's attending college right now. She's overcome so many challenges," Johnson said.

Soni returns the compliment calling Johnson “her rock.” Johnson writes letters to her friend and always puts a smile on Soni's face when they talk on the phone.

"Everybody always wants to find that one friend that is your other half—part of you. They accept you no matter what your flaws are, and they're here for you when you need them. And that's Mary. She is one of the best friends I have had in my entire life," Soni said.

The challenge

Johnson's grandmother and mother had breast cancer. She has family members as young as five years old battling cancer. 

In May, Johnson decided to do the American Cancer Society's monthly challenge for her family and her friend.

"The May challenge was to walk 40 miles," Johnson said, "I decided to do the challenge. So, I did it in honor of my grandmother who had breast cancer, my mom who's a breast cancer survivor, my niece who was going through treatment at that time, and my friend who just been diagnosed with cancer."

After they posted the June challenge of biking 150 miles, Johnson decided to put an extra spin on her efforts.

"I made the decision, while she was going through her treatment, that I was just going to continue to walk as a way to support my best friend," Johnson said. "And then I started thinking about it because she's in Kentucky, I'm in Utah. There are 1,700 miles between us. So, I decided to put another spin on it. And to have an effort to complete 1,700 miles just as a way to show support."

Johnson has also raised $350 for the American Cancer Society. 

UPSers give back

"Giving back is an integral part of UPS culture, and Mary is an example of that," said Carmen Ballon, UPS Communications. "Mary is one of many UPSers who has contributed to the 21.7 million volunteer hours since 2011."

The UPS Foundation has invested $122.3 million globally in such areas as Health and Humanitarian Relief, Equity and Economic Empowerment, and Plant Protection.