Cancer survivor among Hawaii Ironman finishers

Cancer survivor Chris Cornelius  Credit: Ironman
Last Saturday, Chris Cornelius of Huntington, W. Va., spent the day in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, soaking up sun and surf.

Specifically, he competed in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship, completing the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in 15:02:29.

The 31-year-old Cornelius, a plant engineer at ACF Industries in Huntington, went into the race with a goal to complete the ordeal in 13 1/2 hours, which was pretty modest by Ironman standards, and although he didn't quite reach it, his was an extraordinary achievement nonetheless.

Ten years ago, Cornelius went through two years of cancer treatment.

Today, he is an Ironman who maintains an incredibly full schedule with two-a-day workouts, graduate work in the Marshall University business school and his full-time job at ACF.

"I'm not going to say that I'm burned out," Cornelius said before the race, "but I'm at the edge. I'm ready for this to be here and get started."

His weekly routine is enough to burn out the hardiest of souls: four days a week of running, consisting of three runs of six or seven miles and a longer run of 15 to 18 miles; three days a week of swimming, consisting of two miles at a time; four days of week of biking, consisting of three days of 30-mile rides and a Sunday ride of about 120 miles.

In addition to his full-time job, he has attended a business class at Marshall once a week for the past two years, sitting in the classroom for eight hours on Saturdays and doing another 20 hours of study and other academic work during the week. He completed the class the week before Ironman.

He qualified for the triathlon through the lottery drawing and was notified in April. Of the 50,000 triathletes who applied worldwide, he was one of 150 to receive a spot.

Another 1,350 triathletes earned spots by qualifying in their age groups in national and international competition.

"I want to be able to say that I did it," said Cornelius of his motivation to do the race. "There are very few people that have actually been able to go through this. Ten years ago, I had cancer, and I never thought I'd ever be able to do anything like this."

A native of the Charlotte, N.C., area, he played football and baseball, ran track and wrestled in high school and graduated in 1987. About two years after enrolling at North Carolina State University, he contracted Hodgkin's Disease, forcing him to drop out of school for two years of treatment.

In the meantime, his parents moved to Fayette County to escape the big city. He accompanied them and earned a mechanical engineering degree from West Virginia University Tech in 1996.

Shortly after that, he took an interest in triathlons, but started slowly.

"It was about all I could do to ride my bike four miles, get off and run two miles and ride my bike back home four miles," he recalled. "That was about the limit of what I could do."

Since then, competing in small triathlons in the area, he's not only conditioned himself physically but mentally, too.

"You have to approach the race mentally and physically," he said. "You have to talk yourself through it and make small goals: I'm going to swim to the next buoy, I'm going to run to the next telephone pole. If you tell yourself you can't do it, you're not going to complete it."

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