At 78, Thornhill still running full-speed ahead

At 78, Thornhill still running full-speed ahead

Jack Thornhill

CUMBERLAND – This year would have been Jack Thornhill’s 49th consecutive year running in the Arnold Mills Road Race.

The achievement was made more significant after the 78-year-old was named grand marshal of the Arnold Mills July 4th Parade by the Arnold Mills Parade Association, the nonprofit responsible for the Independence Day festivities in Cumberland since 1964.

In keeping with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s directives limiting large gatherings, the race has been postponed until further notice, with the possibility of it happening in the fall.

Before it was called off, Thornhill told The Breeze that, after so many consecutive years participating in the race, “I thought I should do it for the streak.”

“I started running that race back in 1972,” he said, joking that finishing the race has been more of “a struggle the past couple of years.”

He decided after his 30th year that he would keep the streak going as long as he could.

A Cumberland resident, Thornhill has been a runner since his boyhood in Pawtucket. At Pawtucket West High School (now Shea High ), he began running as a senior.

He had tried out for the golf team but didn’t make the cut when his friend suggested he sign up for a new cross-country team that the school was starting, he said.

“I said, 'what the heck is cross country?'” Thornhill recalls. His friend explained the sport, and Thornhill decided he’d like to give it a go.

“I was on the first cross country team they ever had in 1959,” he said. “I ran in the second race of the season and won … I was the first to win a race there."

Thornhill, who went on to run track at Rhode Island College prior to graduation, took a break from running for some years after school.

“After watching my brother run I thought I’d like to try it again. He’d take me out for running and almost kill me,” he said with a chuckle. “He would run me into the ground.”

His brother’s tough conditioning helped Thornhill get back into shape and rediscover his passion for running. Since then, he hasn’t stopped.

In his 49 years running the Arnold Mills race, he has won multiple awards in the various age brackets.

He has run in the Boston Marathon and Ocean State Marathon and, in 2012 at age 70, ran one of the fastest recorded times in the country for his age in the CVS Downtown 5K.

Asked what he loves about running and what keeps him coming back for more, Thornhill said, “It’s the competition. I love to compete, and if I’m not in a race, I compete with myself.” That, and the connections running has helped foster.

“I do some training with my wife. I love to get out there and talk about all kinds of things with her,” he said.

His wife, Donna Faidell, and their children have been cheering Thornhill on for years, enjoying the tradition of gathering on the Fourth of July with their community to watch the parade and root for Thornhill.

Upon being named this year’s grand marshal, Thornhill said he was “stunned.”

“I got the call somewhere around the end of January and had to ask them a couple of times to repeat themselves,” he said. “I was so flabbergasted, I had to get my breath.” “This trumps the race any day, this is such an honor,” he said.

Asked whether he’d aim for a streak of 50 consecutive years participating when the race comes back around, he said, “Oh, I am … definitely.”