The New Religion

Running changed his life, and now former NCAA track and field All-American Courtney Cornwall wants to pay it forward.

Distance runners are distance runners, sprinters are sprinters, and never the twain shall meet. 

Or so goes the theory for the track and field set. If you run distance, you don’t have the fast-twitch muscles and muscle bulk to sprint. If you’re a sprinter, you don’t have the slow-twitchies, gangly build and, perhaps, the pain tolerance, to go long.  

 Enter Courtney Cornwall, a former NCAA track and field All-American who is living proof that speed and endurance need not be mutually exclusive. Throughout his decorated high school, college and coaching career, Cornwall has run at the highest levels in both short- and long-distance competitions.

“I think running—whatever the distance—changed my life,” says Cornwall after coaching a McLean community running club on a recent evening. “I love running sprints, I love running cross-country distances. And I really feel like doing both makes you better at both.”

His students—a dedicated collection of amateurs of varying abilities—agree that the 38-year-old has made them better with his holistic approach. After they finish a 2-mile course, Cornwall gathers the runners on the track at McLean High School and takes them through a collection of “dynamic stretches.” 

“It used to be runners just came to practice and bent and stretched their leg muscles and headed out,” says Cornwall. “We move when we stretch – get the blood flowing and open those capillaries. Jumping jacks, things like that. It prepares you to perform your best.” 

The group does some sprints, and then heads out for a series of 400-meter runs. Cornwall jogs along or stands cheering as runners pass him. 

One of them is Jill Olmstead of Arlington, a marathon runner. Cornwall makes her run sprints and laps. Through speed work, she says, she has become a better distance runner.

“We work on the arm movement that sprinters use,” she says. “We also work on the mental aspect of it. When you run a 400, that last 100 hurts. But you know the pain is temporary. Same with distance—the pain is temporary.”

Cornwall was born in Jamaica, but moved at a young age to New York state, where he was a celebrated middle-distance and cross-country runner. He received a full scholarship to Ohio State, where he earned All-American honors in track and field.

He says he became a top-tier middle-distance runner because he had been a cross-country runner.

“The last part of that 400-meter race is torture,” says Cornwall. “I learned to power through that because I had learned how to power through the pain of a distance race. Cross country made me mentally tough.”

After graduating from OSU with a degree in geography, Cornwall took a job in the mapping and GIS industry with Quantum Spatial in Dulles in 2002. He worked as a graphic technician there for 11 years, but then decided to make a risky career jump to follow his passion.

“I have always wanted to help people—help them be healthy and reach their potential,” says Cornwall, who has a 13-year-old son, Amari. “It was tough because you can hurt your family if you make the wrong move. But it’s been fantastic. I’ve never been happier.”

Cornwall, who is certified in personal training and fitness nutrition through the International Sports Science Association, now works as a personal trainer at Equinox Tysons Corner. He has also coached in area schools. 

“He was a huge help to me,” says Rennix Offutt, one of Cornwall’s former high schoolers who ran competitively at Potomac Falls High School. “For one, he brought in that idea of the dynamic stretching,” says the 24-year-old, a George Mason University grad who now works for a government contractor in the D.C. area. “He made me a much better runner. It’s just fun to have the chance to be working with him again.” 

Though approaching 40, Cornwall still looks like a college-aged All-American. He organizes his own training regimen around his personal training sessions and classes, working out five days a week and focusing on core strength, stability and endurance. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of dynamic stretching. Afterwards, he recovers by “drinking coconut water, eating real foods, stretching a lot and getting a great night’s sleep.”

Cornwall hopes to use his unique approach to training and his passion for and knowledge of complete health and wellness to help him expand his client base. At some point, he says, he would love to own his own larger-scale business, perhaps a gym. His goal though, ultimately, is to make helping others achieve their own goals his life’s pursuit.

“I never felt like I was helping people before,” he says. “I love coaching and the leadership aspect of sports. It’s my calling. This is the life I was intended to lead.”

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