Sault Stryders
Running Club

Cornfest Run On a Shoestring
It's solely thanks to countless volunteer hours that the annual Cornfest run
remains on the move - and in some respects - expands

Reported August 4, 2007 by Donna Schell for The Sault Star
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

The annual Cornfest run and the names Mel Prodan and Ray Stortini have become interlaced, particularly to those who have taken the athletic challenge.

The pair has been heavily involved in ruddering the two-decade-old race, Prodan initially and Stortini picking up the pace in later years.

On Aug. 18, the St. Joseph Island Cornfest 5/10-kilometre run and five-kilometre walk will celebrate its 25th anniversary at 10 a.m.

A special commemorative medal has been struck, marking the anniversary. All runners in the five-kilometre and 10-kilometre challenges will be eligible to receive the prize.

The annual event has attracted countless participants over the years from not only Algoma and the North, but British Columbia, Toronto, the U.S and as far away as Germany.

Stortini's role is beginning to wind down.

This year, the Richards Landing resident said the committee recommended he be relieved of some of his duties, after 15 years of involvement.

Stortini said this has yielded no ill feelings and, for the past three years, he indicated to the committee it should find another race director.

"I was getting a little tired," he said. "There is a lot of stress involved. There are so many things I want to do, it was time to pass it on to someone else."

Stortini remained a committee member and will be present race day, assisting where he can.

Replacing Stortini this year is Janet McLeod.

The future of Cornfest run/walk beyond 2007 hinges more on a race director than numbers, Stortini said.

The event has undergone several changes under Stortini's direction, including the introduction of the five-kilometre run, a five-kilometre walk with all the proceeds donated to Matthew Memorial Hospital Association, a colour party represented by members of Lion's International and Phillip Adams, a Richards Landing piper, who leads athletes from the registration area to the starting line.

"We try to add some colour and social aspects to (the event)," he said.

In 2004, an under-10 (years) five-kilometre-class event was introduced. A feature that attracts many is the 70 and over category.

Stortini said he has been blessed with wonderful volunteers, many of whom have been with him for than 15 years.

An estimated 36 volunteers are required, including race officials at the start/finish lines, road marshals and individuals at the registration table and water stations.

The face of the race has changed - some elements have been omitted. Three years ago, the after-race barbecue held at Stortini's residence was canceled.

"It's a small island and I couldn't find any more volunteers," he said.

Stortini participated in most of the 10-kilometre runs prior to becoming race director.

In 1981, Prodan was a member of the Sault Styders, participating in the regional racing circuit for some time.

He said the number of runners from the outlying Sault Ste. Marie area was initially few.

At that time, there were numerous races held in Sault Ste. Marie and in the U.S. - subsequently, someone suggested a St. Joe competition. The Richards Landing resident approached the St. Joseph Township recreation committee for support.

In the early years, the 10-kilometre competition was the sole event. The original course, which began and ended at the St. Joseph Township Centennial Grounds, is the same route used today.

"Back then, running was huge, everyone was running," Prodan said.

The first year, the response was considered excellent, attracting more than 50 runners.

With the absence of a running club on the island, there was little for Prodan to build on with respect to gleaning volunteers.

"Here, it was a different scenario," he said. "Not many were familiar with, or had an interest in, road racing."

Race officials were chiefly volunteers from Central Algoma Secondary School, including students and colleagues of Prodan, a retired CASS athletic coach, and workmates' spouses. "It became more important as Cornfest grew in popularity because volunteers became scarcer," he said.

Stortini joined during the later years of Prodan's involvement. "Ray was the one person who was really excited about the race," Prodan said. "Up until that point, no one had the same interest as I did. It was then that I decided, after 10 years, to bow out."

Prodan never participated in a Cornfest competition. In 1985, running for him came to and end as a result of knee damage.

"I am surprised Cornfest is still going because many of the races from bygone days are gone," he said.

Prodan agreed more young people are participating in regular activities, possibly speared on by the St. Joseph Island Triathlon. Others are becoming more conscious of a healthy lifestyle and being fit. Prodan has participated in each of the three St. Joseph Island Triathlons as a cyclist in the team event. The Fourth Annual Triathlon, Duathlon and Kids of Steel is slated for Aug. 11 in Richards Landing.

In 2002, the Cornfest run was voted "most popular" by the members of the Ontario Road Runner's Association for municipalities with a population of under 100,000.

Largest number of entries was in 2001 with 180 participants. A total of 86 competed in the 2006 event.

The 1991 race was canceled due to the absence of an event director. No race was canceled due to weather.