Skip to content

Pursuit: Hitting the cross-country trail with Riley Cornthwaite

Lasalle Lancers runner mounted the podium for the second time at the Ontario cross-country championships this year

Young cross-country runners at Lasalle Secondary School would be well served to follow the lead of senior Riley Cornthwaite.

The 18-year-old, who is completing his final year at the New Sudbury high school, recently made his fourth appearance at the OFSAA Cross-Country Championships, mounting the podium for the second time in his high school career.

Finishing third in the Para Division (Intellectual Impairment) earlier this month, the super friendly teenager trailed only Anthony Cigan (St Joseph’s – Windsor) and Matthew Heldsinger (Archbishop Denis O’Connor CHS – Ajax) in a field of some 44 runners who took to the trails in Uxbridge.

Teacher-coach Karen Passi has been thrilled with his development, capturing the growth of the very special teenager on so many levels. 

“He’s a really nice role model for our kids, especially this year for some of our junior runners because we lost (graduated) our senior team,” said Passi.

“He will lead the continuous warm-up for us now because he knows it so well. It was nice to give him a leadership role. He’s very aware of other people and wanting to make sure they feel comfortable.”

On the trails, Cornthwaite is simply following the pathway he has always known.

“I used to do baseball but I learned that my strongest sport is running,” he said proudly. “My parents thought it was best to do this because I always would run around, everywhere I go. I was always a runner.”

That said, race anxiety tends to hit Cornthwaite more than most, but he prepares for it. 

“When I am running by myself, I am nice and calm,” he said. “When I am running with other people, my heart starts racing and my head is all over the place.

“I’ll do some meditation beforehand, kind of like a video in my head, trying to think of breathing techniques to calm myself down. But when I run on the trails, sometimes, it comes back at a rapid rate – and I have a bad habit of thinking of the bad stuff.”

The irony, of course, is that Cornthwaite is such a positive influence on the other runners – albeit not always willing to cut himself quite the same slack, a truism for so many top-end competitors in a whole variety of sports.

“I am good at motivating other people but I cannot take my own advice,” he said with a smile. 

Sharing his thoughts with another who can relate to earning a medal at provincials, Cornthwaite has enjoyed the time he has spent as well with former OFSAA bronze medal winner Calum Passi (2018 – Midget Boys).

“He’s a little bit better than me at some stuff,” noted Cornthwaite. “But he told me he gets nervous himself.”

All of the support seems to have helped immensely.

For the first time in his four OFSAA appearances, Cornthwaite raced without the benefit of a guide this fall, a notable accomplishment for the young man whose confidence can quickly waver.

“I thought I could try and push myself by myself,” he said. “I try and talk to myself, think of ways to calm down. My guides would talk to me and help keep my mind off the race.”

If the entire atmosphere around race day can be a tad stressful for the multi-sport athlete who plans to close out his time as a Lancer by participating in the outdoor track and field season in the spring, any pressure that he might feel in terms of reaching a given result will rapidly fade away with ease.

“I really don’t worry about what place I am in,” he said. “I just run my own race and then when I am finished, I see if I’m maybe top three or top 15 or top 20.”

His coach, on the other hand, is well aware of the athlete that Cornthwaite has become.

“His form – his running form – is so much better,” Karen Passi said. “When he first started, he did not look like a runner. His upper body was swinging. Now, his upper body is settled and he has that nice arm movement.”

And he has a bucketful of great memories to take along as he makes his way forward in life.

“I am going to miss this, because this is my last year doing cross-country,” said Cornthwaite. “I enjoyed it all and made so many connections” – connections who, by and large, were more than happy to follow his lead.

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.