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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
May/June 2011

in the spotlight


Jeri Cornelius

Parole employee competes, meets marathon challenge


Jeri Cornelius with marathon medals

Jeri Cornelius poses with marathon medals.
Photo by Jene Robbins

While most are happy to watch and cheer the marathon runner from the sidelines, only a few of us have the endurance and drive to complete even one grueling 26.2 mile foot race. Jeri Cornelius, executive assistant to Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins, has finished 28 marathons including five Boston Marathons, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., the Chicago Marathon and numerous marathons in Houston, San Antonio and Austin."I ran my 28th when I ran (this year's) Austin Marathon. That doesn't include my half marathons or my other races."

"The way I am," says Cornelius."I'm always looking for something different, something new to do so I don't get bored."

Cornelius was on her high school track team and ran 5K and 10K races after attending college, but the marathon bug didn't bite until joining TDCJ in 1994, when a coworker suggested they participate in the Austin Marathon. They agreed to run the relay portion of the race, each covering 13.1 miles. Afterwards, when she saw finisher medals awarded to those who had run the entire marathon distance, she remembers,"I felt kind of embarrassed to say I'd just run the half. That's what got me started. I thought, 'I can do this.'"

She completed four marathons the next year. "My first marathon was the San Antonio. I was training by myself and didn't know what I was doing. And actually, for my first, I did pretty well. It was four hours and seven minutes."

"I remember I saw the finish line and was rubbing my eyes. I could not believe that was it. I finished and was so sore, I could barely walk." As she drove back to Austin, she couldn't stop smiling at her accomplishment."The whole way, I had this grin on my face, and then got home and it probably took me 20 minutes to get out of the car."

As her ambition grew, Cornelius became determined to compete in the world-famous Boston Marathon. In 2001, her time in the Austin Marathon qualified for her age group, and she traveled to Boston for the annual race. Her time for her first Boston Marathon was three hours and 47 minutes and she has qualified and run in Boston four times since.

Three years later, race day of the 2004 Boston Marathon was marked by 80 degree temperatures. With the race scheduled to start at noon, heat would be a dangerous factor. "I got to mile 24 and I was getting very delirious. I had an EMT walk up and say 'What's your name?' I told him my name and he asked where I was from and I said 'Austin.'" He told Cornelius to stop running and head for the medical tent. There she sat, thinking of how she would finish the last two miles."It was lovely, just lovely," remembers Cornelius.

She finished the race crawling over the finish line."I made it and collapsed. They put me in a wheelchair. You could hear the ambulances going the whole race. I had three IVs (intravenous therapy). I was very dehydrated."

It would not be the last time she would need quick rehydration. Looking for a new challenge, Cornelius marked her 40th year by attempting an off-road trail run at the Pike's Peak Marathon in Colorado. On the flight to Colorado Springs, a fellow passenger told her she'd love the marathon and would come back again and again. When she arrived at the starting point the next morning, it was still dark.

"The race started and I'm thinking, 'This is so easy!' We're all barely moving and I'm like 'Yeah, I can do this!' And then you get above the tree line. You have to be a billy goat because it's not smooth. You're climbing rocks and running and it's this tiny little trail."

She made it to the summit, took a picture, and then looked at the trail down the mountain. "Going up was fine, but going down, when you're running trails, you can't be afraid. You've got to jump off rocks and you do get hurt and bruised. It's just a free fall." After finishing the race in a little more than nine hours, Cornelius was immediately given a rehydrating IV. "I'm laying there and the rain's pounding me in the face. I said, 'Never again! Never again!'"

Jeri Cornelius at Texas Capitol
Jeri Cornelius at Texas Capitol.
Photo by Jene Robbins

She returned the next year."I forget the pain involved in every race, but Pike's Peak was definitely the worst. Everybody - friends, family, coworkers - said, 'You said 'Never again!' and then you turn around and did it the next year.' I was never as afraid in my life as I was the second time around and I said 'You remember this.'" She has not returned to Pike's Peak.

Cornelius has managed to avoid permanent physical damage often associated with the stress of marathon running."I've been very fortunate that I've not had a lot of issues or injuries when it comes to running. One year, I had a stress fracture and I was on crutches for a little while. That was it; otherwise, I haven't had any injuries at all."

Always looking to meet the challenge of competition, the TDCJ staffer admits getting upset when other runners pass her while running along Lady Bird Lake in Austin. "Of course, it's going to happen, but I just get so exasperated. When I'm at the gym on the elliptical machine or the treadmill, I want to go faster and longer than the person next to me." She knows and understands that her friends and family are amused by her desire to compete."I have to laugh at myself, (but) I'll keep doing this until I can't run anymore."


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