His friends and family say Kyle Chase Johnson loved his alma mater so much that he visited Penn State University every few months. Now, at least, his image will never have to leave.
The likeness of the 23-year-old man who died after running in the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon last week was painted on a mural in downtown State College on Sunday.
Mr. Johnson had an abnormality in his coronary artery system, a defect he was born with that affects less than 1 percent of the population. Mr. Johnson collapsed just 1.1 miles away from completing another half marathon, this time close to his hometown of Franklin Park.
The mural is called "Inspiration" because it features 330 of the men and women who inspire local painter Michael Pilato, including Joe Paterno, Sue Paterno and Lt. Michael Murphy.
After hearing stories about Mr. Johnson from hundreds of students after the tragedy through Facebook, Mr. Pilato knew the 2012 graduate had to be the newest addition to his 96-by-24-foot mural on Heister Street. Mr. Pilato also added a small image of Joe Paterno sitting on a bench eating an ice cream cone, a scene well known among those in the Penn State community, symbolizing Mr. Johnson's love for Penn State, the artist said.
Although Mr. Pilato never met Mr. Johnson, the impact the young man had on members of the community was enough to motivate the painter.
"Kyle inspired me through his love for others," Mr. Pilato said. "Every picture I have seen of him, he had a smile on his face. He seemed like such an upstanding young citizen."
Mr. Pilato began painting at 3 a.m. Sunday as a Mother's Day gift to Mr. Johnson's mother, Mary Beth Deal. She and his uncle, cousins and brother traveled to State College on Monday to add their own touches to the mural. Mr. Pilato put blue paint on the palm of their hands and then allowed the family members to place their handprints around the likeness of Mr. Johnson.
While at Penn State, Mr. Johnson participated in the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, raising thousands of dollars for children with pediatric cancer. He also was a member of the Lion Ambassadors, a group that gives tours of the campus to prospective students.
After graduating a year ago, Mr. Johnson secured an accounting job at Deloitte & Touche and had recently moved to an apartment Downtown.
Through Lion Ambassadors, Mr. Johnson met Gary McMillen, one of his roommates during his senior year at Penn State. After seeing several photos of the mural, Mr. McMillen, 23, of Canonsburg, said he thought Mr. Pilato captured Mr. Johnson's smile perfectly.
Considering Mr. Johnson's love of being the center of attention, Mr. McMillen believes his friend would have loved to find out he was placed on the mural.
Although Mr. McMillen has not seen the mural in person, he plans to visit soon with the three other men who lived with Mr. Johnson.
The former roommates will most likely swap stories of the good memories they had with their friend.
"I am sure he would be happy to know he is still making people laugh and bringing them together while also having a presence in State College," Mr. McMillen said.
While the mural was a way of helping the family and friends of Mr. Johnson heal, it also had that effect on Mr. Pilato.
"I did this as a gift to them, but it turned into a gift that helped me heal," he said. "The whole Penn State community was the artist here, I was just the brush. I was simply relaying the emotions of everyone who knew Kyle."
Jessica Tully: email@example.com or 412-263-1601.