The walls of Joseph Cornelius’ bedroom in Los Osos are lined with photographs and framed T-shirts from various events he’s done, including a surf camp, 5-kilometer runs and two marathons.
One of the frames holds a red T-shirt with “Team Joseph” emblazoned on the back, and under it, “26.2 miles of smiles.”
Nearby, a large photo captured Joseph and his team — about 12 people including his father, John Cornelius — wearing the shirts in an emotional finish at the 18-year-old’s first marathon in Orange County in 2010.
John Cornelius, 56, described Team Joseph as two parts: Joseph is the heart, the team has the legs. And since Joseph, who was diagnosed as a baby with cerebral palsy, can’t experience running on his own, his father has brought running to him.
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“I want him to be out there, feeling the breeze and seeing things,” John Cornelius said. “For me, it’s something I can do for him.”
On Sunday, they’ll run their third marathon together, this time in San Luis Obispo, in mustard yellow “Team Joseph” shirts. They’ve completed the OC Marathon twice and plan to run in the Two Cities Marathon in Fresno and Clovis later this year.
But the road from the first 5K to 26.2 miles has been a lengthy one, and not without its share of bumps.
Joseph Dillon Cornelius was born April 11, 1994, to John Cornelius, a store manager at Rite Aid in Los Osos, and his ex-wife, Beth, who lives in Los Osos.
The pregnancy was smooth. But as Joseph Cornelius grew, the couple noticed his motor skills weren’t developing. He couldn’t roll over or grasp toys, and he was irritable. Soon, he started having seizures.
When Joseph Cornelius was about a year-and-a-half old, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy and told John Cornelius that their son might never walk or talk.
“I think, during all that time, I loved him even more than at the beginning,” John Cornelius said. “It’s not fair what happened to him, but he’s a fighter. I don’t care if he ever walks or talks. I just want him to be a happy kid.”
In the years that followed, there were breakthroughs. Joseph Cornelius got over a fear of water when he was 5 while visiting an uncle who had a pool.
Around the same time, John Cornelius noticed that Joseph enjoyed walks that were quicker and bumpier. He decided to do a 5-kilometer run and then another.
“He’ll get really excited when we start out,” John Cornelius said. “Then really relaxed, which is rare for him, and then fall asleep. And repeat.”
John Cornelius trained for his first marathon in 2002 through Team in Training, which raises money to benefit cancer patients and their families. Since then, he’s run about 35 marathons — including the Boston Marathon last Monday — and one ultra, a 50K in Fresno.
During Team in Training, he met Jeff Cenoz, whose son, Alex, had leukemia and who is running his first half marathon Sunday with his dad. They plan to run the last few miles of the marathon with Team Joseph.
John Cornelius wanted to run a marathon with his own son but couldn’t find one that allowed Joseph’s specialized jogging stroller. It was Cenoz who learned the OC Marathon was stroller friendly.
After that, plans snowballed. More runners Cornelius had met through Team in Training and other friends wanted to run with them, taking turns pushing Joseph’s jogging stroller.
Another team member, Laurie Greco, came up with the name. Team Joseph was born.
Four team members will be running around San Luis Obispo and Edna Valley with Joseph Cornelius on Sunday, including William Walters, Joseph Cornelius’s teacher in a special education program at San Luis Obispo High School.
“I’m a father, and I have never met anyone more dedicated,” Walters said. “It’s the most tender of all relationships I’ve seen.”
If you go
What: San Luis Obispo Marathon and Half
When: Sunday. Marathon starts at 6 a.m., half marathon at 6:30 a.m.
Who: 800 runners are entered in the marathon, 2,000 are entered in the half marathon.
Where: The races begin at San Luis Obispo High School and wind through downtown before heading up Johnson Avenue to Orcutt Road. The courses then head into Edna Valley before returning to San Luis Obispo. The races finish at Madonna Inn.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.