SNOHOMISH — Leiran Cornish never felt like she had to run track because her parents did. She just happened to be good at it.
Of course, the Snohomish High School senior and 400-meter specialist is probably a good runner because her parents were once pretty good runners themselves.
Dad Jeff Cornish was a sprinter at Hillsboro (Ore.) High School, where he graduated in 1976. Mom Monica (Johnson) Cornish was a 1979 Snohomish graduate and a four-year letter winner in cross country and track, and a two-time placer at state in the 800 meters. The two met while on the Pacific Lutheran University track team in the early 1980s.
“If you think about genetics,” Leiran Cornish said, “my mom did longer distance and middle distance, and my dad was a sprinter.” Put those gene pools together, she added with a smile, “and you come up with a 400 runner.”
And not just a so-so 400 runner. Leiran Cornish is the school record holder (56.7), a two-time defending Western Conference North champion, and a three-time state qualifier.
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How likely is it that parents who were once top runners themselves will have children who also excel?
“I’d say that’s never a guarantee,” said Snohomish track coach Tuck Gionet, “but I’d also say it certainly doesn’t hurt.”
Because Leiran Cornish has the school mark, her name is on the record board in a hallway by the Snohomish gym. Also on the board is her mother, the former school record holder in the 800 meters. Records are listed by classes, and Monica (Johnson) Cornish still has the school’s sophomore (2:16.8) and senior (2:17.5) 800 records. Her school record lasted until just a few years ago when another Snohomish athlete, a junior, ran a 2:16.4.
“I was always hoping that she would break it,” Monica Cornish said, looking at her daughter. But since Leiran Cornish runs the 400, “the reality is that she was never going to do it.”
The record board was recently updated, “and it was cool to see our names up there,” she added. “I was kind of emotional about it. And my mom came in and took a picture of it.”
“I think it’s really cool,” agreed her daughter. “I’m one of the only athletes that can say, ‘My mom is on the board with me.’ I know of people who have siblings on the board with them, but I don’t know of anybody who has one of their parents on the board.”
Although the two have comparable accomplishments, Monica Cornish has no doubt who is the better runner.
“Truthfully, if we were running at the same time in our lives, (Leiran) would totally spank my butt,” she said. “The ability it takes to run that speed, it’s not something I had in me. So I know it’s a gift she has that’s very special.”
Thirty-three years after wrapping up her high school running career, Monica Cornish runs only occasionally these days. But she stays close to the sport because of her daughter’s involvement, and her own track background gives her a special perspective on her daughter’s successes.
“I’m very nervous when I watch her run,” Monica Cornish said. “It’s really hard for me in the stands, especially at meets like Wesco and district. I get really emotional, and I just have to take a chill pill and enjoy the moment.”
Because the season is young, Leiran Cornish is still building strength and stamina. Her best times will come near the end of the season, but this weekend she will have the chance to assess her progress against other top runners at the annual Eason Invitational track and field meet at Snohomish High School, which each year brings together many of the top track athletes in the state for a mid-season event.
Leiran Cornish, who will run track next year at Eastern Washington University, says she is not focused on particular finishes in her upcoming races. Her primary goal is merely to improve her best time.
“Anything can happen at any moment when you’re out on the track,” said Leiran Cornish, “so I don’t like to put that kind of pressure on myself. I just try to do the best I can on that day.
“My goal is to (run a personal best), and if it’s only a 56.6 (.1 second better than her school record) I don’t care. I still beat myself.”