Crossing finish line had new meaning for FHU's Cornett after cancer

Crossing finish line had new meaning for FHU's Cornett after cancer

Wed, Dec. 3, 2014 - [Men's Cross Country]

HENDERSON, Tenn. - Josh Cornett visited Freed Hardeman’s campus as a potential student-athlete in November 2011.

Now, three years later, he has just finished his senior season on the FHU cross country team and is a cancer survivor.

Cornett ran cross country, played soccer, and ran track at Piketon High School in Piketon, Ohio, eventually deciding to share his talents with the Lion cross-country team.

Cornett was one of the strongest runners on the team, with a personal record of 29:40.

“It was a tough transition from high school running to college, but I handled it pretty well,” Cornett said.  “The distance went from a 5K to an 8K, which is a large jump.”

In June of 2013 with his first college season in the books, Cornett had a mole biopsy done on the top of his head. It came back as malignant melanoma, and a few days later he had surgery to remove it.  While the surgery was successful, three lymph nodes and another mole were found to be positive for melanoma.  

“Like most other people, I was surprised and worried,” FHU Cross Country Coach Derrick Spradlin said about hearing the news.  “You want to say or do something meaningful but feel rather helpless.”

After months of different treatments, clinical trials and injections, Cornett has just finished his last treatment.  At the end of October, his scans came back clear.

“Now, I’m just grateful to be running.  Before, I was racing against other people, but now I’m racing for myself,” Cornett said.

Cornett’s next step is to continue contact with his doctors.  If it returns, it will be caught earlier than last time.

The challenges did not end for Cornett when his results came back clear.  Getting back into long-distance running shape was no easy task, and there was no going straight back to the same times he was running before.  

“My mindset has changed a lot. My freshman year I was doing my best to be competitive and help the team, but I’m just grateful to be there now,” Cornett said.

“Josh is a determined and tough young man,” Spradlin said. “During the spring of his freshman year, he trained for his first marathon and hit his goal time. He was methodical and deliberate about it. I think those same traits have been evident in how he's dealt with the cancer and getting back into running.”

The Christian influence and support of his teammates were an integral part of Cornett’s return as well.

“They are always there for me, and they’ve never treated me differently,” he said. “We have a devo at all of our races and sometimes have a singing on long trips. It’s good to know that we have a Christian outlook even when we’re competing.”

However, the influence and support Cornett gave to his own teammates is impossible to miss.

“When he was gone last year, and because of the reason he was gone, there was a void,” said Spradlin.  “He was never far from our minds, and nobody knew quite what to do about it.  Having him back this year was great. It was the same old Josh, only every time he crossed the finish line, it really inspired everyone.”

Cornett graduates in December and is ready to get into physical therapy school, but will miss his FHU cross country teammates.

“I love our team’s dynamic.  It’s so different. We can goof off and have fun,” he said.  “Coach adds to the good dynamic. He helps me to look past my limitations and do the best that I can.”

“Distance running teaches you a lot about yourself: the good, the bad, and the ugly qualities about yourself, your toughness, your limitations, your mental and physical strengths and weaknesses,” Spradlin said.  “Maybe being a runner helped to prepare him to fight cancer, and maybe his fight against cancer will make him a much better runner in the future.”

Story by Abby Besson