Growing up, Jeff Cornick and his father James raced each other home from church each Sunday, the son spurred on by his father’s cajoling. James was a college athlete and avid marathoner.
“It’s all his fault,” Jeff jokes, about his love for running. “I got it from him.”
Decades later, the duo is still competing, but now they are racing as a team.
On June 24, the Cornicks will compete in the Tupper Lake Tinman triathlon, where Jeff will be pushing and pulling his father, who has multiple sclerosis, around the Olympic-distance course. They will begin the .93-mile swim in Tupper Lake, then bike the picturesque 26-mile bike course through mountains and lakes, followed by a 6.2-mile run. Competing in an Olympic distance is a prerequisite to the 2018 Ironman in Boulder, Colorado - the next race on their agenda.
Individually, those distances represent a difficult test of endurance for athletes. Put them together and they make a race designed to test a competitor's physical and mental limits. Now add the bonus of propelling another human through the course, and you get one grueling day.
“I’m not looking to place,” Jeff said. “Where we finish in the standings is not important. What is important is that we are enjoying what we are doing.” The younger Cornick is a certified USAT triathlon coach from Saratoga Springs who knows adversity. He ran the 2012 Lake Placid Ironman with a broken clavicle.
James lives nearby in Glens Falls. After nine marathons and just as many half-marathons, his disease began to progress and by 2014, he was unable to run anymore. Their first event together was the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon.
Jeff during the 2012 Lake Placid Ironman with a broken clavicle
"Pops" and Jeff at the Waterman's Half Ironman in Maryland in 2014
It’s apparent when you meet the Cornicks that they enjoy each other’s company: by the way they finish each other’s sentences, and gently - or not so gently - rib each other, laughing at each other’s jokes.
“I don’t tell Jeff how fast to push me,” said the competitive father, “but he is definitely encouraging me to weigh less,” James chuckles. Jeff responds by noting he anticipates a slow swim where he will be churning one arm and two legs and pulling his 220-pound dad in an inflatable kayak.
“He’ll probably have time to fish,” Jeff said.
Now in its 35th year, the Tinman celebrates a rich history in a beautiful location. It is considered to be a a great choice for varying ability levels, from the first-time athlete to the seasoned veteran, making it a perfect choice for the Cornicks. They require a little extra elbow room on the race course and Tinman Race Director Wendy Peroza has worked with them to make the starts and transitions as smooth as possible. They start the swim before the 500 or so other competitors hit the water. Of course, the competitors are timed from their respective starts, so there is no advantage to starting early.
After the swim, James will exit the kayak and place himself in the chariot that will be hooked to his son’s bike. After 26 miles, Jeff will reconfigure the chariot’s wheels and begin pushing it for the run portion. As the team’s “nutrition engineer,” James job is to ensure his son stays hydrated and fueled.
“Our transition areas will look like a yard sale,” Jeff anticipates.
When Jeff is not training or working, he is busy collecting bottles to help defray the cost of the wheelchair. To date, he has turned in for deposit over 40,000 cans and bottles, earning $2,000 toward the $5,000 goal.
“Restaurants give them to me, neighbors drop them off, I pick them up while am running, collect them after 5ks - bottles are everywhere,” Jeff said. “It’s not an easy method of fundraising, but it’s effective.”
They also have a Crowdrise fundraising page through Ainsley’s Angels of America: https://www.crowdrise.com/cornick.
While Jeff admits the training is tough and race day will be grueling, there is no doubt the effort is worth the result.
“When people ask me if I am crazy to do this, I think, ‘it’s ok because we get to spend time together.’ I think the fact is often missed that I get to spend time with my pops that most fathers and sons don’t get to,” Jeff said. “It’s an honor and privilege to be his legs.”
Whether you are competing alongside them, or spectating from the sidelines, make sure to cheer on Jeff and James when you see them during this year's Tupper Lake Tinman triathlon.